How to Enjoy Your Day Today

>> Friday

WOULD YOU LIKE TO enjoy your day today? Sure you would. Here is one way to almost guarantee it: Try to help others enjoy their day more. I don't mean going around massaging people and washing their cars. I'm talking about the way you look at them and talk to them and listen to them. This simple method is more useful, sophisticated, and effective than it may at first appear. Let me explain.

First off, we are social animals, and your brain rewards you with pleasure when you show goodwill toward others of your kind. Who you consider "your kind" is up to you, and it's flexible. You can think about the fact that this person is part of your family, your neighborhood, your company, your city, your country, or even a member of your species. You can think about it any way you want, so think about it in a way that lets you feel the two of you are the same kind. Then your friendliness and kindness toward them will trigger your brain to make you feel good.

Second, this method takes your attention off yourself and puts it out in the world. Even if you still felt grumpy or tired, you wouldn't notice it as much because your attention is off yourself. It's also true that the very act of paying attention to yourself and your problems can make you feel worse. It is a kind of first-stage self-help to focus less of your attention on your own problems. This method is a great way to do that.

And third, the tones of voice and facial expressions of the people around you affect your mood. Why is this important? Because when you try to help people, it changes how they interact with you. When you see the change in them, it'll change the way you feel.

So how can you do it? Other than giving them money, how can you help people? The simplest way is with a kind of amiable extroversion. In the American Heritage Dictionary, extroversion is "interest in one's environment or in others as opposed to or to the exclusion of oneself." Even when you feel withdrawn, the act of speaking up makes you feel less introverted. It makes you feel bolder and more alert.

Be outgoing and kind to others, especially when you feel like withdrawing. It makes you feel better. Be your sincere self. Avoid being phony. Don't try to act like someone you're not. But be outgoing and kind to people, not just in your actions, but in your thoughts too.

Make others feel good, and help them feel good about themselves. Volunteer nice comments to people. Voluntarily say nice things about people — behind their backs and to their face — and avoid talking badly about anyone when you can.

Be helpful when and where you can. Try to be constructive. Avoid being destructive or critical.

This includes listening, which is a form of reaching out (to draw others out).

Extroversion is a characteristic of happy people. Look around you at people nearby and ask yourself, "What do they need?" One needs a little cheering up. Another needs a smile from you. Or for you to listen to a problem, or show an interest, or give a pat on the back, or a compliment. Or just simple human kindness — not only expressed outwardly, but also demonstrated in your thoughts (forgive people, try not to judge them, etc.).

If you're so busy with your work you don't have time for this stuff, then you probably don't have your own anxieties on your mind much either. Work tends to take up enough attention. But if it doesn't, make it your personal mission to raise the general tone of the people around you. A higher tone is needed and wanted in this world and you can help.

Here's a true story and an example of the principle: Forty miles from Paris was the Forest of Fontainebleau. Artists came from all over to paint there. It took two days to walk from Paris to this forest, but an artist in his early 20's named Pierre had often done so.

One day, Pierre was painting when a dazed, mud-splattered, ragged man stumbled out of the forest and gasped, "Please help me! I am dying of hunger."

The ragged man was Raoul Rigaud. Pierre fed him and heard his story. Raoul was a journalist who had opposed France's authoritarian government in some of his writings. Now the authorities were after him. They had surprised Raoul at his home, but he sneaked out the window and barely escaped out of Paris. Now he was exhausted, and had decided to give himself up. He could not go on like this.

Pierre felt sympathy for Raoul. He convinced Raoul not to give himself up. Pierre borrowed an artist's smock and painting kit from a nearby village, and over the next few weeks they spent together, Raoul became, to all eyes, just another visiting artist to the Forest. A very grateful Raoul was eventually able to contact friends in Paris and they arranged for him to flee France.

Years went by.

One day Pierre was painting by the Seine river when some national guardsmen stopped to look at his work. All of a sudden, one of the guards grabbed the painting and accused Pierre of being a spy for the Versailles forces. He said this painting was a painting of the Seine area showing vulnerable points and strategic locations to guide the Versailles troops. The guards were getting agitated, and a small group of people had gathered. "A spy!" they shouted. The soldiers placed poor Pierre under arrest and marched him to the town hall where a firing squad was on permanent duty to handle things like this.

The crowd grew into a mob. They were now shouting, "Kill him! Kill him!" But Pierre was not a spy. He was just a poor painter.

Pierre's "trial" and conviction was nothing more than a nod from the captain. Pierre's hands were tied. He was dragged down to the firing squad. He closed his eyes. This was the end.

But when he opened his eyes, he saw the Public Prosecutor standing in front of him. The Prosecutor happened to be passing by when he saw what was happening. "Surely you remember me!" said the Prosecutor, and he embraced Pierre.

It was Raoul Rigaud! Because of his kindness and optimism years before, Pierre was saved. And the world was better off for it — Pierre's artistic ability continued to blossom, bestowing on the world a genius with color and light and shadow. Because of his kindness to a stranger in trouble, Pierre-Auguste Renoir had saved his own life.

It may not necessarily save your life, but acts of kindness and extroversion toward others will raise your mood. Helping others enjoy their day more will help you enjoy your day today.


Feel Better About Yourself, Honestly and Truthfully

WHEN I FIRST read Martin Seligman's book, Learned Optimism, I took his questionnaire, which is designed to discover if you are pessimistic, and if so, in what way. The questionnaire uncovered a mistake I was making — a tendency to not take credit for good things I did. Up until then, I considered that characteristic a virtue: I wasn't a braggart (read more about this).

But the trait had an entirely different slant after reading Seligman's book. I saw that trait in a new light. At work, for example, I paid attention to the mistakes I made, even if I was doing a good job. I disregarded and overlooked the things I did right and focused my attention on what I was doing wrong.

The trait is apparently driven by anxiety, and it also maintains anxiety. Aaron Beck, one of the founders of cognitive therapy, said this tendency is very strong in people suffering from anxiety. And, in fact, I used to suffer from a lot of anxiety.

I found a simple solution to this problem. The solution counters the tendency to overlook your good works and sends your mind in a healthy direction.

Here it is: Occasionally ask yourself, "What am I doing right?" And really think about it. Try to think of several things you're doing right.

If you are unsuccessful at first — if you can't think of anything you're doing right — just keep asking the question. Don't give up. Persist in asking until you come up with answers.

This exercise is surprisingly relaxing. It will relieve some of your tension. It will help you feel better. It's a relief to realize you've done some things well.

In the car, on the way home from work, ponder the question, "What did I do right today?" Lying in bed before nodding off, ask yourself, "What did I do right today?" What can you take credit for?

Go ahead and feel good. It doesn't do any good to feel like a loser. It accomplishes nothing. In fact, it hinders.

Bragging may be a social blunder, but giving yourself credit in the privacy of your own mind is healthy and anxiety-reducing.


How to Deal With Rude People in a Way You'll Feel Good About

I know there are sociopaths in the world, and there is no way to deal with them in a way you'll feel good about, but most of the people who treat you rudely in your everyday life are not sociopaths. They may be simply having a bad day or have had difficult circumstances.

Even if you never find out why they deal with you the way they do, you can easily alter the way you think about them so their rudeness doesn't ruin your mood.

Abraham Lincoln did it when dealing with Edwin Stanton, and you can do it too. Find out how: Disarming Hostility.


Stop Needing Approval and End Your "Approval Anxiety" Now

>> Sunday

ONE OF THE MOST common anxieties is "needing approval" or the fear that someone might disapprove of you. I used to suffer from approval anxiety quite a bit when I was younger, and I gained some relief from a simple passage in the book on social anxiety, Dying of Embarrassment: Help for Social Anxiety and Phobia:

It's okay if some people dislike you or disapprove of you sometimes. In fact, it's inevitable.

Even well-known and widely-admired people are disliked or even hated by some people. Reminding yourself of this can be a relief. It's a kind of perfectionism to try to get everyone to approve of you, and the effort causes extra stress hormones, and leads to even more anxiety.

Most of us have a need for approval, at least to some degree. It is normal to want to fit in and be accepted by others. In a species as social as ours, where being accepted by the group has been important to survival, we're bound to have some built-in desire or instinct to try to be approved of by our fellow group members. Those born without a need for approval would be less likely to have any offspring in a hunter-gatherer group. One of the most important things our species has relied on to survive is banding together — for hunting, defending against enemies, and helping to raise children.

Social anxiety is an important evolutionary development, keeping people cohesive as a group, improving our chances of surviving during dangerous or difficult times. But of course, times have changed.

One thing that has made our need-for-approval instinct so much more troublesome for modern people is that we now interact with so many strangers. It is an unnatural situation, and we have not evolved to deal with it. It's much easier to learn to get along with a small group of people you have known all your life. But those days are over. Approval anxiety is a natural result.

But there are things you can do to stop needing approval so much. You can alleviate much of this natural and perfectly understandable approval anxiety.

The first step is something simple but immensely effective: Remind yourself that no matter how perfect you try to be, some people will dislike you. You cannot get everyone to like you. Even if you were able to achieve it for a moment, someone would dislike you because you were so popular! Every time you feel some approval anxiety, immediately remind yourself that you cannot get everyone to like you. Say it to yourself emphatically and repeatedly.

Getting everyone to like you is an impossible goal. Remind yourself of that fact over and over. This will go a long way toward ending your anxious need for approval, and help you live a more enjoyable life. It will help you be in a good mood more often.


Overcoming Setbacks

When you are pursuing a goal or trying to learn a new skill, will you quit when it gets difficult? Or will you overcome setbacks and persist?

What is the key to determination? It is simply this: The way you explain the setback to yourself. And it's something you can change.

Find out how: Determination.



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