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Finding My Answers Within

Some thoughts as I prepare to invest the past into the future- Happy 2014!!!

I have found that constantly checking my life against "oughts" and "shoulds" leaves me feeling empty. It took me a long time to figure out what it means to " be me", to live true to my highest expression of myself.

In many ways of course I've always been me but for many years I was also looking outside of myself for things like purpose, meaning, and inspiration. The “looking” implies that these things are somehow hiding "out there" somewhere, just waiting to be discovered.  I found that some of the questions I asked lead me further and further outside of myself.

Today I realize the answers are all within. I have found that much can be accomplished simply by asking myself the right questions.  Starting with these:

“Who am I?”

“What do I need?”

“How do I function best?”

“What do I have to give?”

“What’s the next step I can take right now?”

Vocation and Significance

Some thoughts about work…

Balancing Logic & Creativity

Something a client said last week really struck a chord with me. I’m paraphrasing but essentially he said “taking this time to be in Hollywood doing all of this ‘right-brain’ stuff must be a great compliment to all of the left-brain work you do as an Internet marketing coach.”

WOW! I had never thought of that. Yes it’s obvious and perhaps I should have thought of it, but I hadn’t. Me being Santa Claus and bringing that part of me to TV, and creating this “The Greatest Gifts of All” project, is me expressing my creativity and me obtaining balance.

As an “Internet marketing coach” I spend many hours each day doing very left-brain, logical, rational and calculated activities.  For example, helping my clients obtain top Google rankings on their keywords is ALL about understanding Google’s algorithm and calculating how to use it to my client’s advantage. Helping clients to best present their offering is all about strategy, reasoning and language. I spend nearly ALL of my work day doing VERY left-brain stuff!

Maybe that’s all right. Maybe I’m a left-brain person and this is just me doing what comes natural to me.

I decided to find out. I Googled on “right brain left brain test” and took a couple of the free online tests that showed up. Here are the results:
Right LeftAnd…
Right Left 2

Apparently I’m very balanced, nearly equal in my left-brain, right-brain tendencies. Yet before becomming SANTA Ed I had been spending the bulk of my waking hours doing left-brain stuff… that can’t be good.

For decades I was doing a lot more left-brain stuff than right-brain stuff, mostly because I was “chasing the dollar” and it seemed to me that the left-brain stuff was the best way to accomplish my financial objectives. Now I see things much differently. I now see both left-brain types and right-brain types that do very well financially. I also now see that true success is BEING TRUE TO WHO YOU ARE.

Parker J. Palmer in his excellent book Let Your Life Speak relates- There is a Hasidic tale that reveals, with amazing brevity, both the universal tendency to want to be someone else and the ultimate importance of becoming one's self: Rabbi Zusya, when he was an old man, said, "In the coming world, they will not ask me: 'Why were you not Moses?' They will ask me: 'Why were you not Zusya?"

One of The Greatest Gifts of All must surely be having the courage, and the wisdom, to live true to who you really are. 

All the best,
santa-ed-taylor-sig

Attracting Happiness

I have spent much of the last 2 months working on a national "Happiness Project". It's a huge undertaking with many collaborators scattered across the country and around the world. There are many aspects to the project including a social experiment, an e-booklet and on ongoing "Happiness Education" series, ALL free. I'll fill you in on the details in the coming weeks.

My involvement includes developing relationships, a website and helping to craft some of our messages. In the process I'm coming across a bunch of really great books, quotes and images including the one below. When I saw it I smiled instantly. When I read it I felt that is was an expression of my own philosophy.

Happiness Goes Where Happiness is

The quote: "If you are happy, happiness will come to you because happiness wants to go where happiness is" is attributed to Yogi Bhajan.

What do you think, IS happiness attracted to happy people?

Flow to Happiness

Flow is the mental state in which we  are fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus and full involvement. In other words we are absorbed in the present, no thoughts about the future or the past, or even about the present, just an absorption in the present.

Recent studies have demonstrated a direct link between this "flow state" (see- http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lance-p-hickey-phd/flow-experiences-happiness_b_811682.html) and personal happiness. And remember happy people live longer, have better emotional health are more cooperative, more social and more charitable. They also produce superior work outcomes and have stronger immune systems. Adding more happiness to your life is not only better for you, it's also better for your family and society in general.  

By the way, this state of flow is the objective of most meditation practices.

Last Sunday I found myself in just such a state. I was painting several pieces of furniture that are going into my wife's studio. I had them prepped and paint brushready, the music on and I was just singing and painting… before long I was lost in it, I was totally absorbed.

When I had reached the end I was surprised to see that more than an hour had passed. I couldn't remember the songs that had played, or even thinking about anything. It was almost like waking from a deep, restful, dreamless sleep.

I must confess, I find myself in this state quite frequently, often when I'm writing I will "come to" after a several minutes, or even an hour or more, to realize that I had been totally absorbed in what I was doing.

If you have not cultivated the habit of allowing yourself to easily, and frequently, slip into flow I want to recommend it. Here are a few things that can help you access the flow state more frequently.

Be Present

Focus on what you are doing. When thoughts pop into your head simply acknowledge them and let them slip away. For example if you remember that you have a "to do" later in the day that you don't want to forget, just make write a quick note to yourself and let it go. If you start thinking about something in the past, just say to yourself, I'm going to have to think about that at some point, but not now, right now I just want to focus on this. This takes some practice but you can definitely do it, it's easy, you're just procrastinating about thinking about something, we can ALL procrastinate.

Don't Rush

If you absolutely must do something at a certain time set an alarm, I do this on my phone all the time, in fact I have an alarm set right now to remind me to put another coat of paint on that furniture, this allows me to be fully engaged in writing this right now with giving any thought to the next activity I want to do.

I believe in leaving myself plenty of time to do everything in my life that I want to do.  This habit has nearly eliminated me experiencing being rushed or anxious and I'm able to concentrate fully and do the best I can at what I'm doing.  This practice allows me to be much more present and focused on whatever is in front of me and it definitely allows me to access flow much more regularly.

Create Blocks of Similar Activities

I find that when I do several similar things in the same block of time, such as telephone calls, or coaching sessions, and then do another task like writing projects I can increase my flow states.

Find Your Flow

Being aware of activities that  are flow inducing for you is a good idea. There are several activities that tend to get me into a flow state rather quickly like writing/blogging, walking and working in the yard. Doing these regularly adds to my happiness. Of course meditation, which I do every morning is also very effective.

For me meditation brings that flow mindset to the start of everyday. There are many different meditation methods which you can look into for yourself, but put quite simply, meditation is just sitting quietly. If you new to meditation simply find 5 or 10 minutes a day and sit quietly. As I said earlier I do this early each morning. Don’t try and stop your thoughts, let them pass through your mind and observe them. If you will just do this one simple activity you will notice a huge positive difference in your day to day life. See this as an opportunity to briefly disconnect from everything that is happening around you and it will help you flow through your day to day life.

Minimize Distractions

Distractions will often make it more difficult to access the flow state. Wherever possible, remove distractions in order to concentrate fully on what you are doing. I am big fan of Facebook and email but sometimes we need to turn it off in order to get things done. Learn to be in charge of the tools in your life, rather than the other way around. If you need to focus, switch off your phone, or alerts where possible and give yourself the opportunity to concentrate fully on what is in front of you. You could even set aside blocks of time to catch up on social media, and then enter a flow state while Facebooking, don't laugh I have done it many times.

So there are a few things you can do to increase the amount of time you spend in a state of flow. I would love to hear about your flow experiences, feel free to enter them below or pop me an email.

TED Talks on Happiness

Yesterday I helped my local library host a small discussion group on Happiness using TED Talks as the springboard. It was incredibly interesting.

First, if you are not familiar with TED, let me give a brief background. TED hosts conferences under the slogan "ideas worth spreading". It was founded in 1984, the T-E-D  is an acronym which stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. The main TED conference is held annually in Long Beach, CA and TED Ted Talksevents are also held throughout the U.S. and in Europe and Asia.

I have found dozens of fascinating TED Talks including the 5 I have provided links to below.

Here's why this is important. Happiness is one thing the few things that we all want in our lives, in fact a large number of people answer the question, "What do you want out of life?"  with "To be happy." And it makes sense, right? We all want to be happy.

Here's the challenge, and this is what these TED Talks on happiness can help with, we often do not understand the TRUTH about happiness. Our upbringing, our society and even our experiences can, if we are not careful, engage us in a lifelong game of happiness Hide-and-Seek. This is one of the primary reasons I have started the Greatest Gifts of All website and have no named myself The Happiness Ambassador.

We can EASILY experience much more happiness in our lives if we understand a bit more about the TRUE causes of happiness. These TED Talks on Happiness will help with that.

1. Martin Seligman on Positive Psychology

In this TED talk Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology and the author Authentic Happiness and Learned Optimism, looks at ways healthy people can lead happier, more engaged, and more meaningful lives. http://www.ted.com/talks/martin_seligman_on_the_state_of_psychology.html

2. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on Flow

Check out this TED talk from psychology professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who authored the book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Csikszentmihalyi talks about how average people become extraordinary which he attributes to the idea of "flow" when one become completely involved in an activity for its own sake. http://www.ted.com/talks/mihaly_csikszentmihalyi_on_flow.html

3. Matthieu Ricard: Habits of Happiness

Biochemist turned Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard examines happiness and well-being in this TED talk. He differentiates between pleasure and happiness as pleasure if fleeting and reliant upon circumstance. He feels that true happiness is found by training the mind to be happy regardless of the situation we find ourselves in and to tap into the deeper happiness of the awareness that we are more than our fleeting emotional states. http://www.ted.com/talks/mihaly_csikszentmihalyi_on_flow.html

4. Dan Gilbert: Why Are We Happy? Why Aren't We Happy?

Check out this TED talk from Harvard psychologist and the author of Stumbling on Happiness, Dan Gilbert. Gilbert provides info from studies that reveal that what we often think will make us happy is the opposite of the case. http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_gilbert_asks_why_are_we_happy.html

5. Ron Gutman: The hidden power of smiling

Ron Gutman reviews a raft of studies about smiling, and reveals some surprising results. Did you know your smile can be a predictor of how long you'll live — and that a simple smile has a measurable effect on your overall well-being? Prepare to flex a few facial muscles as you learn more about this evolutionarily contagious behavior. http://www.ted.com/talks/ron_gutman_the_hidden_power_of_smiling.html

Understanding what we can do to increase the happiness we experience in our lives is important because it changes our behaviors. We act differently. We talk differently. We buy different things. We find that our happiness is actually very much our natural state and we can easily allow ourselves to slip back into that state if we simply start looking at things differently, if we will wake up from the dream and see the illusion for what it is, an illusion. Happiness is not determined by what we have, it's determined by who we are.

I would love to discuss these TED Talks on Happiness. Please leave your comments, thoughts or experiences. 

Make Me Happy

I was surprised to learn that more than 4,000 people per day use Google, Bing and Yahoo to search on "make me happy".  After I heard that I Googled it myself. What are people finding when they search on "make me happy"?

Well, I found the song "Makes Me Happy" by Drake Bell showed up several times and a Wikipedia page about the song so perhaps that's what these searchers were looking for, but I also found several websites that had to do with becoming happy, things that make us happy and even an article on the "10 Things Science Says Will Make You Happy".

Have you ever asked yourself "what is it that will make me happy?" Have you found an answer? I have, and it wasn't on Google.

I am happy to say that I have been living happy for a long time… as I started thinking deeply about my personal happiness several things became very apparent to me. First I noticed that I simply care less about many things than some of my less happy friends. I don't really care who wins a game, or if the traffic is slow, or if someone flips me off… I just don't. These things, and many more, are just not that important to me… I simply do not care about them.

I also noticed that I'm very content to let people experience their own lives. I don't feel compelled to change people, even my children, parents, siblings and wife, it's very OK with me that they live their lives the way they see fit. They are on their path and even if I could "change them" or "do for them" that would rob them of their experience of life.  I share who I am and what I believe when asked or in family conversations, but I have no interest in persuading them or changing them. I'm content to take my path and allow everyone else can take theirs, without my judgment and without me holding some feeling that they, or I, should do anything different than what they, or I, are doing.

There was a short time when I shut happiness out of my life. I was heavy with regret, sorrow and shame when my finances were in ruins, I'm very happy to say that my happiness returned long before my finances recovered. Much of my perspnal happiness is the result of a decision to accept what is, and making a choice to live in optimism and gratitude.

The fact is this, "The Greatest Gifts of All" website is an experiment in spreading happiness… it's a happiness project. The 9 Gifts that I cover in the videos are all about increasing happiness. Both GRATITUDE and OPTIMISM are among "The Greatest Gifts of All" and videos on these Gifts are in the works right now.

In her very academic and scientific book "The How of Happiness" Dr. Sonja Lubomirsky writes; "It is a truism that how you think- about yourself, your world, and other people- is more important to your happiness than the objective circumstances of your life." She then goes into a full chapter on practicing gratitude. The-How-of-Happiness-cover-Sonja-LubomirskyDr. Lubomirsky's research and studies clearly show that the question, "What makes me happy?", is often answered in a single word GRATITUDE.

As I mentioned earlier I have been living a happy life for a very long time. For the past few years I have also been studying happiness, both my personal experience of happiness, and the research done by many experts and academics. As a result of these studies it has become very clear to me that when you ask the question: "What makes me happy?" The best answer is not to be found on Google, or anywhere else "out there", happiness is "in here". Look inside, spend some time meditating, spend time being gratefu and try caring a bit less about all of the things that are outside of your control.

Happiness, true, authentic, happiness is available to you right now, regardless of your circumstances. I encourage you to fully receive The Greatest Gifts of All and share them with those you care about.

All the best,
santa-ed-taylor-sig

Gratitude- The Key to Increasing Happiness

The Greatest Gifts of All are those things that add contentment, fulfillment, meaning and of course happiness to our lives. My mission through this project is to identify these "Greatest Gifts" and provide awareness, tools and tactics that help all who are interested to more fully receive these gifts into their lives.

When it comes to happiness psychological research shows that most people's happiness levels are remarkably stable over the long-term. Whether you win the lottery or become disabled in an auto accident, after about three to six months you'll have returned to your usual level of happiness, what Sonja Lyubomirsky, in her very interesting book, The How of Happiness, calls your happiness "set point". These findings are incredibly counter-intuitive and they also raise a serious problem for those wanting to increase levels of happiness permanently.

While Ms. Lyubomirsky book is a bit too clinical and scientific for my taste she does provide "evidence" for what philosophers, writers and grandmothers have been saying for centuries and that is, as she says, "The expression of gratitude is a kind of metastrategy for achieving happiness."  Simply put- being thankful might be the key to raising your happiness 'set-point'.

Dr. Robert A. Emmons in his book 'thanks! describes the following from one of his research projects:

Group 1 was asked to write down 5 things they were grateful for that had happened in the last week for each of the 10 weeks of the study. This was called the gratitude condition.

Group 2 was asked to write down five daily hassles from the previous week. This was the hassles condition.

Group 3 was asked to list 5 events that had occurred in the last week, but not told to focus on positive or negative aspects. This was the events or control condition.

The types of things people listed in the grateful condition included:

  • Sunset through the clouds.
  • The chance to be alive.
  • The generosity of friends.

And in the hassles condition:

  • Taxes.
  • Hard to find parking.
  • Burned my macaroni and cheese.

The Result? Happiness up 25%

People in Group 1, the Gratitude Group, felt 25% happier – they were more optimistic about the future, they felt better about their lives and they even did almost 1.5 hours more exercise a week than those in the hassles or events condition.

Because focusing on gratitude reminds us we owe others and this may remind us of our dependence on others and reduce our sense of personal control Dr. Emmons was surprise at the findings of the study. In my personal experience I have found that this feeling of being connect to others and to nature, this interdependence, evokes gratitude.

This is not an anomaly, there are have been other studies, including studies by Emmons and McCullough, that showed that those in the gratitude condition were significantly happier.

Gratitude can help those with chronic health problems

One of the Emmons and McCullough studies involved adults with neuromuscular disorders. This condition can be seriously debilitating, causing joint and muscle pain as well as muscle atrophy.

In this study a gratitude condition was compared to a control condition in which participants wrote about their daily experience. After the 21 day study, participants in the gratitude condition were found to be more satisfied with their lives overall, more optimistic about the upcoming week and crucially, were sleeping better. Good sleep is important as it has been found to be a great indicator of overall well-being. People who sleep well are generally healthier and happier than those whose sleep is poor.

Where do you start? I'll let Oprah explain…

Meditation Explained by Peter Russell & Eckart Tolle

Throughout the 9 Greatest Gifts I mention meditation and "sitting in the silence." The fact is I'm writing at 5:50 AM, only a few minutes after I finished my morning meditation.

This morning, after my morning meditation, I went down to my office, sat in front of my computer, and went to Facebook. Only minutes before one of my Facebook friends posted a YouTube video of  Peter Russell explaining his meditation technique to Eckart Tolle. I was not familiar with Peter Russell but I watched the short video and I really liked how he explained meditation and I think you will to. Here's the video:  

In my experience meditation helps me to connect with what I call my "Higher Self", or my Soul.

My entire life is now guided from this source so I now find meditation an indispensible part of my existence.  Of course I'm not alone in this, for thousands of years, spiritual traditions of all types have taught meditation as a way to quiet the busy mind and reconnect with the inner self.

If you are new to meditation you may find your mind so full of thoughts that you have difficulty "quieting" them. This may sound strange but the answer is not in trying harder. Meditation is effortless, just relax, breath and follow the advice Peter gives in the video. Once you stop trying I'm sure you’ll find your mind will settle down very naturally into a state of quiet. Relax, enjoy.

sit and meditate