Way #1 – ACCEPT YOURSELF (Then consider improvements)
Until recently, scientists measured happiness using only two criteria – material success and good health. Now, the new science of well-being has identified several major factors that influence our level of happiness.
This is good news – even more ways to be happy!
The first one is key – self-acceptance. Studies show that nearly everyone struggles with liking ourselves just the way we are. And it’s also true for the most accomplished, including those with both material success and good health.
Zen master Suzuki Roshi used to tell his students, “You’re perfect just the way you are, and you could use a little improvement!”
It’s a Zen paradox, where both parts are true – but he emphasized the ‘already perfect’, because that’s the part we skip over – we think we have to ‘self-improve’ before we deserve self-acceptance.
In fact, ‘self-loathing’ is epidemic in western culture. Perhaps from early Calvinist influence, “work hard, sacrifice self, and maybe a reward in heaven.” Or perhaps from the negative bias of the brain’s survival system – in trying to keep us safe, it’s always scanning for what’s wrong – is that a coiled snake lying in the trail, or just an old root curving across it?
It’s good to have a safety system, but the negative bias backfires because the brain also applies it to our own thoughts and behavior! It focuses on all the mistakes we make, the things we don’t get done, and all our shortcomings – and gives birth to ‘negative self-talk’.
Neuroscientists say that 80-90% of all human thought is negative rumination. The word ruminant comes from the digestive process of a cow, where they “cough it up and chew on it over and over again.” Sound familiar? Two of the most common self-talk scenarios we engage in are ‘rehashing the past’ and ‘rehearsing for the future.’ Looking critically at what we’ve already done, on the one hand, and on the other, trying to avoid screwing up in the future!
No wonder self-acceptance is hard to come by. We don’t see a balanced picture of ourselves. No matter how much we got done today, our brains will focus attention on the one thing we didn’t do!
Fortunately, there are ways we can antidote the brain’s negative bias and cultivate a balanced self-opinion. This raises our self-esteem, increases self-acceptance, and makes us happier! Some of the practices taught in the 5-week course, ‘Be Happy & Well’ are Mindfulness Meditation, Self-Compassion, and Gratitude Practice.
Here’s an example of a Gratitude Practice – at the end of the day, we take a minute to make a deliberate inventory of what we accomplished, what went well, and what felt good. Then we take another minute and let it sink in – because chances are the mind, if left on autopilot, will focus on anything that didn’t go as planned!
Learn about these and more of the best techniques from Mindfulness, Positive Psychology, and Life Coaching in the 5-week course “Be Happy & Well’ – starting Weds., February 7, 2018, 6-8pm at Santa Cruz Dominican Hospital. Sign up here.