In "Happy," Dr. Ian Smith from "Celebrity Fit Club" shares what he says are the secrets to happy life, from learning to be optimistic to "tapping the power of simple pleasures."
A diet expert, Smith created The 50 Million Pound Challenge, a national health initiative that encourages people to lose weight and get fit. Smith has partnered with CVS Pharmacy to educate the public about the link between diabetes and obesity.
Click HERE to learn more.
Read an excerpt of book below, and then head to the "GMA" Library to find more good reads.
Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful. --ALBERT SCHWEITZER
Once a grouch, always a grouch. This is not so, say researchers who have investigated whether it's possible for those who are distempered to be able to turn that frown into a smile. While research shows us that 50 percent of our happiness level falls out of our control and is determined by our genes, the good news is the same research shows us that 40 percent is within our own control.1 This affirms what I had discovered in my own life. Exhibit A— my grandfather.
My grandfather, Pops, was and still is a classic. A product of the deeply segregated South, he grew up poor and uneducated, and was left alone to struggle for a better life. With two sandwiches in a cardboard box and less than $5.00 in his pocket, he boarded a train for the great North where rumors had it that racism wasn't as prevalent and a hardworking man, regardless of the color of his skin or level of education, could earn an honest dollar.
To say my grandfather worked hard all his life is as much of an understatement as saying the Pope practices Catholicism—a strong work ethic was that central to his core being. I remember sharing a bed with him as a little boy, and during those bone-chilling New England winters he would slowly get up from the warmth of the covers and methodically put on his clothes, saying little except "Do well in school today. Stay out of trouble. Keep the red thing [tongue] behind the white thing [teeth]." Translation: Don't talk back to adults. And that was the extent of his morning conversation. There was never an "I love you" or "Can't wait to see you when I get home to night." He'd tie up those old steel- toed black boots with the cracked leather, slide on his trademark French cap tilted to one side, and then head out into the cold.
Pops was a heavily disciplined man, almost to a fault. He would never kiss us— because boys don't kiss boys. He cut the grass on the same day every week, shoveled snow off the porch and sidewalk in the same sequence, and prepared the same lunch every morning— two pieces of well- done toast and a thick slab of government cheese. Barrel-chested with powerful arms and sterling white teeth, he was a gruff man full of superstitions and a rigid code of conduct. He only spoke to do one of two things: complain or teach us a lesson, taking equal plea sure in both of them. Oh, and hugs were definitely out, too. Pops didn't hug people. He offered a stiff right hand—"A man always shakes with the right hand"—and a grip that could bend steel. But as gruff as Pops was, he was a great provider and always put his family first. He just struggled when it came to the typical displays of affection. Trying to extract even the slightest physical or verbal confirmation of his love was more difficult than passing kidney stones.
For most of my childhood I thought Pops simply didn't like people. He barely spoke to those who spoke to him, and when he did, four or five words were the most he was willing to say. He was content minding his own business and leaving others alone. He didn't ask for favors so that he wouldn't be indebted to others who might lend a helping hand. He rarely needed to verbalize what he was thinking because the way he could cut his eyes and tighten the muscles in his face told you everything you needed to know.
Then my grandmother died. They had been married for more than fifty years. It was an old- fashioned marriage: He was the breadwinner; she reared the four children and made sure the home was comfortable and full of love. The only time I ever remember them kissing was at their fiftieth wedding anniversary celebration when the children and grandchildren cajoled Pops until he relented and bent over in front of all of us and pecked my grandmother's cheek. Something shot through me watching him do that, and to this day I can replay it over and over again in my mind in slow motion.
At her death announcement and funeral services, the rest of us were a complete mess, but as you might expect, when it came to Pops, there were very few tears. It wasn't that he didn't love my grandmother or wasn't saddened by her death. Crying just wasn't something he did. Several months later was the first sign. I went to visit him at the house that was once so vibrant and busy and was now empty without my grandmother shuffling around the kitchen or sitting in her favorite seat in the living room.
Everything was arranged exactly the way it had been when she was alive, but now with all of us living in our own houses, Pops was left there alone with nothing but silence and her memories. Then he cracked— not a big one, but enough for me to take notice. He actually told me a joke. Then he laughed. It wasn't a roar that shook the walls, but it was a laugh finished off with a tight smile.
Several months later the most amazing thing that ever happened between my grandfather and me took place when I was about to leave his house after a Sunday visit. I reached down to hug him, and not only did he let me kiss him, but without my saying it first, he said, "I love you." I was temporarily paralyzed. I knew what I had heard, but I also knew it would be a mistake to make anything of it. So fighting back every urge to make a fuss, I simply returned the gesture and got out of the house as fast as I could before he did something like take it back. When I got into the car and was on my way back to New York City, I called my mother and told her what had happened.
"He's doing things like that lately," she said. "He's been calling us up on the phone, telling funny stories about his childhood, and asking about the next time the family plans to get together."
"I can't believe this," I said. "He's actually getting softer in his old age."
"In all my life I've never seen him like this," my mother confirmed. "He's happier and more engaged. He's like a brand new person."
Just to be clear, it wasn't as if Pops had turned into the happiest person in the world, where he was bouncing off the walls and writing us love poems, but he had definitely undergone a transformation— a big one for him— from an unhappy, distempered person to someone who was more engaged and appreciative of those around him. He was spending more time with us and openly acknowledging what he was grateful for. He was happier not just in his actions but in his words, doing and saying things I had never heard him say. New research on happiness tells us that even those prone to habitual melancholy and grim temperament can lift their mood through a series of exercises and behaviors that are surprisingly simple and quite easy to accomplish. I have listed some of the most popular of these boosters that could also give you a lift.
How many times did I hear growing up, "When you do for others, you're also doing for yourself." Another stalwart in our home was "It's better to give than to receive." We had been indoctrinated with the belief that selflessness was not only a way to feel better about yourself but was one of the important keys to eternal salvation. Scientists decided to put to the test what Bible- toting grandmothers already knew as truth.
There had been hints in earlier research that individuals who report having a great interest in helping people act in a prosocial manner, or have intentions to perform selfless or courteous behaviors are more likely to rate their disposition as happy. Attempting to build on this earlier work, researchers in one study asked participants to practice random acts of kindness regularly over a ten- week period.2 The acts included such things as doing a roommate's dishes and holding the door open for a stranger. According to the results, how often the kind acts were performed had no impact on the level of reported happiness, but the variety of the kind of acts did. Those who performed a wide range of kind acts reported increasing happiness even as long as one month after the study was completed. Those who reported their events of the past week rather than focus on acts of kindness showed no changes in their level of happiness.
Then the study went further. Did it matter when these acts of kindness were performed? Students were asked to perform five random acts of kindness each week over a six week period. These acts had to be done either in a single day or across the week. The acts of kindness were behaviors that benefited others and included visiting a sick relative, donating blood, and dropping coins into a stranger's parking meter. The results were clear: Happiness levels increased, but only for those who performed all their kind acts in a single day. Let's call it the "day of kindness." Researchers speculated that when kind acts were spread throughout the week, the effect of each kind act was dispersed so that participants didn't distinguish between their normal behavior and the kindness prompted by the exercise. Taking both interventions together, happiness can definitely be boosted by intentional acts of kindness, but the impact of feeling good about your deeds depended on the timing and variety of performing such activities. The group that didn't practice acts of kindness experienced a reduction in happiness over the course of the six week period.
Why do acts of kindness work? Many believe that they bolster one's self- regard, increase the number of positive social interactions, and enhance charitable feelings toward others—all things previously believed to make people happier. Acts of kindness can inspire others to like you more and have a greater appreciation of your behavior, and potentially they can lead to reciprocal kindness. One of our basic human needs is to feel connected to someone else and establish some type of meaningful relationship. Committing acts of kindness satisfies this need.
Make a meal or purchase a meal and give it to a homeless person.
Send flowers to someone in your company who is hardworking but underappreciated.
Visit a nursing home or senior citizen's home and bring a gift for the residents to enjoy.
Donate a winter coat to a family whose children might need one.
Leave an inspirational book on the seat of a bus or train with a note for the finder to enjoy it and pass it along when done.
Cut an inspiring story from a newspaper or magazine and post it on a bulletin board for others to read.
Collect things that might be needed at an animal shelter, such as blankets, toys, cat litter, etc., and deliver them to the shelter.
Run your own canned food drive and donate all the food to a residence of displaced families.
Anonymously send something that you know a friend or loved one needs.
Help a school or church plant a garden.
The benefits of gratitude are nothing new to religions and philosophies that have long embraced it as virtuous and an integral component of spiritual and physical well- being. Scientists have come late to the game of trying to understand what if any role gratitude plays in the attainment of happiness. Several studies over the last ten years have been undertaken to discover and better understand this relationship. One landmark study was performed by Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California–Davis.3 He looked at whether keeping a gratitude journal in which people recorded on a daily basis the things they were grateful for would have any impact on their level of happiness.
Emmons worked with three experimental groups over the course of ten weeks. Those in the first group were asked to list five things they were grateful for that had happened in the last week. This was called the "gratitude condition." The second group was asked to list five daily hassles from the previous week. This was called the "hassles condition." Members of the third group simply listed five events that had occurred in the last week, but they were not told to focus on the positive or negative aspects. This was the "events or control condition."
Some of the things that people in the gratitude condition listed included "waking up in the morning," "the generosity of friends," and "thanks to God for giving me determination." Examples of hassles that were listed included "hard- to-find parking," "messy kitchen no one will clean," "finances depleting quickly," and "doing a favor for friend who didn't appreciate it." The last group listed such things as "talked to a doctor about medical school," "learned CPR," "cleaned out my shoe closet," and "attended Whole Earth Festival."
The gratitude group came out way ahead. They felt better about their lives as a whole, were more optimistic regarding their expectations for the upcoming week, spent significantly more time exercising (nearly 1.5 hours more per week), and reported fewer physical complaints.
Other studies have shown benefits from gratitude. Participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to make progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal, and health-based) over a two- month period compared to subjects in the other experimental conditions. Those in the gratitude condition were also more likely to report having helped someone with a personal problem or having offered emotional support to another.
Saying thank you is not just good manners. The process of recording your gratitude on paper and even delivering it yourself to the person to whom you're grateful can go a long way in boosting your happiness. One study asked some of the participants to write and then deliver in person a letter of gratitude to someone who had been especially kind but had never been properly thanked.4 After doing this for one week, researchers found that participants were happier and less depressed. This result was seen as far out as one month from the date of the gratitude visit. What the researchers are now trying to figure out is whether repeating this on a monthly basis is the best way to achieve happiness for longer periods of time.
Why does showing gratitude work? Noted experts such as Martin Seligman believe that it amplifies good memories about the past and creates strong bonds with someone from your past who is important. Thanking others for good deeds has become so customary that it is more of a reflex than a heartfelt display of appreciation for an act of generosity. By taking the time to really think about why you're grateful, to write a letter of thanks, and to deliver that letter in person, you can feel the real power of appreciation that makes you feel good about acknowledging someone for his or her good deeds.
Gratitude also works by focusing on the good things that happened in the past. If you take the time to think about what you have to be thankful for, then that means there is less time to think about the bad things that happened. Imagine a constant battle between the good and evil forces trying to occupy your thoughts. Only one can dominate at a time. The more time you spend on one, the less time you can spend on the other. By devoting more time to thinking about and expressing gratitude, you allow the good forces to win and all the positive energy that comes with them.
List Three Things That Went Well Today and Why Too much of our day is focused on the bad things that happen or the things we wanted or expected that didn't happen. This often leads to feelings of disappointment, failure, and negativity. But research performed by a group of psychologists led by Martin Seligman has shown that recognizing the good that happens in your day can boost your levels of happiness.
In this groundbreaking study the researchers asked over four hundred participants to perform happiness interventions over a period of several months.5 One of these interventions involved listing three things that went well each day and identifying why those three things went well. This was done every night for one week. It was one of two exercises that showed the greatest results, increasing happiness and decreasing depressive symptoms for six months.
The exercise might look something like this:
1. I got accepted into one of my top three college choices. This is great news because I like the campus and curriculum at this college, and the school also offered me a scholarship to help reduce the cost of attending.
2. I read a book to a group of toddlers at the library today. It went so well that the librarian invited me back to read another book.
3. I spoke to a friend I hadn't spoken to for several months because of an argument we had. We talked about the merits of the argument, our different viewpoints, and how bad we both felt about not speaking to each other. We agreed to put the disagreement behind us and move on with our friendship, which we both enjoy.
Having money might not buy happiness, but how you spend it could actually make a difference. This is the premise of a study conducted by a team at Harvard Business School and the University of British Columbia.6 One of the researchers said that they wanted to test the theory that how people spend their money is at least as important as how much they earn. Participants in the study were asked to rate their general happiness, report their annual income, and detail their monthly spending, including bills, gifts for themselves, gifts for others, and donations to charity.
Surprisingly, they found that regardless of how much income each person made, those who spent money on others reported greater happiness while those who spent more on themselves didn't.
In a different experiment the same researchers focused on the employees of a small Boston company. They surveyed the employees before and after receiving profi t- sharing bonuses between $3,000 and $8,000. They found that employees who devoted more of their bonus to pro- social spending experienced greater happiness after collecting the bonus. How an employee spent the bonus was a more important predictor of their happiness than the size of the bonus itself.
Purchase a dress or pants and a shirt for a toddler and give it to a family that needs it.
Anonymously donate to a church a holiday gift that will be distributed to the less fortunate.
Purchase lunch for a colleague.
Purchase a toy for a sibling or a child in your community.
Quietly slip $10 (or more if you can afford it) to someone who needs it.
Offer to pay for the groceries of someone who is standing in the checkout line.
Find a charity whose mission you would like to support and donate money.
Purchase several books and donate them to a classroom.
Help pay for the school tuition of someone else's child.
Send a gift basket and words of encouragement to someone who might be having a difficult time.
When it comes to finding happiness, relationships certainly matter, but a casual friendship is not enough to make a difference. A study performed by psychologists Ed Diener and Martin Seligman showed that the happiest people had close friends, strong family relationships, and romantic relationships.7 Unhappy people spend more time alone and have social relationships that are worse than average.
Research also shows that it is not the number of relationships that matter, but the quality of the relationships. Friends are a great support system; they help us celebrate the good times and weather the tough times. It has been shown that a strong social network is also associated with lower levels of stress and a longer life span. This network should be the old fashioned kind rather than one that's virtual on a Web site such as Facebook or MySpace.
Establishing meaningful friendships takes time and work. If you don't currently have a network of friends, you need to get out there and put yourself in a position to meet new people. Everyone you meet isn't going to become a friend, but the more people you encounter, the greater the likelihood that you will find a match. Listen to your gut. Sometimes you can tell right away if someone gives off positive or negative vibes. Don't prejudge people before giving them a chance to speak for themselves; but if you are getting a bad feeling about a person right from the beginning, it is more likely than not that this uneasiness is warranted, and you should proceed with caution.
Meaningful friendships take time. Our lives have gotten progressively busy, and many social opportunities exist, from ballroom dance classes to online chatting or participating in advocacy groups. It is easy to fill up your calendar with many less important things so that there is little time left to spend with those who mean the most to you. This has happened in my own life. I recognized it recently and decided to change. My best friend from college has been like a brother to me for many years. We stayed together over the summer, traveled to each other's homes throughout the year, and spoke either in person or on the phone almost every day. Then life happened: marriage, kids, jobs. Our communication diminished drastically, and we were seeing each other only once or twice a year.
I brought this to his attention recently, and we both lamented how life's routine had squeezed out many of the things that mattered most to us, such as our spending time together and enjoying the special bond we shared. We agreed on the spot that at least once a year we would take a trip together— just the two of us, no families involved. Whether it would be hiking the Rockies, sitting on a beach in California, or visiting the Louvre in Paris, we would rekindle our friendship and give our relationship the time it deserved. Some of the happiest moments in my life have been sitting across the table from my friends, chatting about the silliest and most random things that come to mind. Nothing can replace the deep personal connections that make us feel good about ourselves and others.
A spiritual life can take on many different meanings for different people. For some it is the same as religion; for others it has nothing to do with religion. I like to think of a spiritual life as a belief in a higher power or order of things in which the individual is only part of the whole rather than the whole itself. Spirituality is about a journey seeking wisdom, striving for personal growth, forging deep bonds with others, and searching for meaning. Leading a spiritual life is also about humility and understanding your own limitations. People who are spiritual often work hard at doing what is right and fair, and they are tolerant of differences and more willing to forgive.
Spirituality for many is a way of pursuing a meaningful life in which we use our talents to serve that larger force, whether it is a community or causes such as social justice, world hunger, a green environment, or other big- ticket issues. One definition does not fit all, nor is there a right or wrong way to express spirituality. It is really all about what you think is meaningful and worthy of your service.
Set aside at least a few quiet minutes every day to say a prayer.
Think of five ways that you can improve the conditions of those around you.
Practice finding the good in others and in difficult situations.
Love others not just in words or thoughts but through the generosity of actions.
Humbly accept and honor the concept of your relatively smaller place within a greater and bigger universe.
Spend at least an hour during the day focusing on good thoughts and positive energy.
Release anger and grudges you still have in your heart from past misdeeds.
Make a practice of doing good things for others on a regular basis.
Ask others about their struggles and triumphs. Make a real investment in the lives and well- being of those around you.
Recognize that there is a higher force in your life. While you may not be able to see, define, or touch it, recognize its presence and vast capabilities.
When I was a little kid, one of my teachers would always say to whoever was pouting, "Smile. It's a lot less work. Frowning requires a lot more muscles than smiling." The lesson was simple even to us elementary school children: It takes a lot more effort to be sad than it does to be happy. My Sunday school teacher was famous for saying, "The more time you spend frowning, the less time you can spend smiling." By most definitions she was a very happy woman.
A similar analogy exists when it comes to forgiving or refusing to forgive. Past events that are painful, disappointing, and disturbing can scar an individual for life. Whether it is being molested as a child, having your girlfriend dump you as a teenager, or being falsely accused of something you didn't do, if the event is traumatic enough, it is unlikely you will ever be able to purge it completely from your memory. So how does one move on? That is where and why forgiveness is key.
Forgiveness is all about letting go, shedding resentments and the desire to get even with those who have wronged you. Once someone has been mistreated, the longing for revenge is extremely powerful. This longing becomes restrictive and unproductive because it keeps you bound to the offense that was committed against you rather than freeing you to move on to seize happiness in the present and future. Forgiveness is so potent that it can flip you 180 degrees. In an instant you can move from anger and vindictiveness to having compassion and feelings of understanding for the person who hurt you.
Not being able to forgive does a lot more harm than good. You are suddenly consumed by all types of negative feelings, which continue to grow the longer you hold on to the anger. When we haven't forgiven and moved on, we constantly replay the offending situation in our minds, thus crowding out more positive thoughts. There are those who hold on to grudges for years, long after the sting of their original hurt has gone away. These people are stuck; they are holding on to a bitterness simply for the sake of holding on. A tremendous amount of negative psychological and physical energy is required to remain angry or vindictive toward someone who has wronged you. But forgiving the transgressor is the fastest way to ensure that you are no longer consumed by the negative thoughts of revenge or anger.
Forgiveness might become a bigger part of our lives if we truly understood what it means and its benefits. Forgiving someone does not mean you condone what the person did, nor does it mean you have to forget the transgression. The act or situation that off ended you will always remain a part of your life, and you will probably always remember it. Forgiveness doesn't mean you are minimizing the severity of the transgression. Forgiveness is more about the forgiver than the person being forgiven. Forgiving actually frees you from the negative mental imprisonment that entraps you when you can't let go of the past misdeed. Scientists have studied the benefits of letting go, and these include less anger, less stress, more optimism, fewer anxiety symptoms (irritability, difficulty concentrating, excessive worrying and tension, unrealistic view of problems, restlessness, or feeling edgy), lower blood pressure, lower heart rate, less depression, improved cardiovascular function, diminished chronic pain, healthier relationships, more friendships, and better reported health.8
While forgiveness is not always easy and often something you can't do immediately after the off ending situation, it is important to identify the signs that tell you it's time to bury the hatchet. These signs include the following:
Being told you have a chip on your shoulder
Frequent feelings of being misunderstood by others
Persistent thoughts of the off ending situation
Others feeling it is unpleasant to be around you
Having frequent outbursts of anger even over the most trivial of incidents
Using alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes to medicate your pain
Symptoms of anxiety or depression
General feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness in other areas of your life
Being consumed by thoughts of getting revenge
For most, forgiveness is not something that happens automatically. Like many things in life, it's a process. An effective place to start is by taking a few minutes to weigh the benefits of forgiveness against the costs of holding on to a grudge. Next, in a calm and nonjudgmental manner as possible, review the offending situation. Look at it from all sides and not just yours in which you feel victimized. Was your reaction more than what the offense dictated? How has this situation and your reaction to it impacted your life? Does what happened and all its negativity have the right to occupy so much of your time and mental space?
Putting the off ending event in context with the rest of your life often reduces its importance and allows you to see how much of a waste of time it is to dwell on something that is in the past and is only standing in the way of your striving forward and getting on with being happy and participating in the more productive aspects of life. Define yourself not by your hurt but by how you are able to find compassion and understanding in the face of a perceived slight. To get even more out of your forgiveness, just don't tell yourself that you're going to let go, but let the other person also know how you feel.