The Comfort Zone

The comfort zone. We all have one. We believe our comfort zone makes us happy, keeps us safe, and helps us maintain our lives. But new research shows that might not be true.

Whether it comes to relationships, our work lives, our friends, or our personal lives, we all have our comfort zone—our set way of doing things—that we typically prefer to stay in. But a new study demonstrates the benefits of going outside of our comfort zone and how doing this actually makes us happier.

Researchers at the Universe of California—Riverside asked 123 participants who identify as introverts to push the boundaries of their willingness to engage with others for one week, while participants in a control group were asked to maintain their usual boundaries and act as they typically behave. At the end of the study, those who pushed their boundaries and went outside of their comfort zone reported having more pleasant experiences and being happier throughout the week. 

Lyubomirsky, a UCR psychologist and co-author of the study stated, “The findings suggest that changing one’s social behavior is a realizable goal for many people, and that [doing so] improves well-being.”

So how do we increase our happiness and successfully expand our comfort zones?

Exercise your strengths—What are the things that you’re good at? Make a list of your strengths and then choose one each day to practice in some way. Generous? Pay for the coffee for the person behind you in line! Good listener? Take an extra minute to really ask someone how their day is going. Organized? Clean up that stack of papers that’s sitting on the counter. These are examples of small ways that we can be intentional about going outside of our typical routine and help us be the best version of ourselves in our every day lives!

Ask yourself one, simple question every day—Ask yourself, “What is one thing I can do today to make someone’s day better?” Asking ourselves this question sets the intention that we are looking for ways to reach out to others. Does your partner have a favorite snack? Pick it up on the way home from work! Is someone walking through the door behind you with their hands full? Wait that extra second to hold the door for them, smile and greet them as you do so. Do your kids have a favorite game? Put that chore aside for a few minutes and play their favorite game with them! Putting others first and looking for ways to make another’s day better helps us expand our focus from our own comfort zone to the happiness of others.

Focus on your successes—We do a lot in a day. But because we’re so used to doing what we do, we don’t even notice all of the things that we are accomplishing. Because of this, we’re often left feeling drained at the end of the day, too tired to do anything else, but we don’t even REALLY know why. Start writing down the things that you are accomplishing throughout the day. Did the dishes? Write it down. Stayed awake during that boring work meeting? Write it down. Cleaned the bath tub? Write it down! No task is too small. Writing down your success, such as in the form of a “Got-It-Done” list will help you remember all the things you “got done” throughout the day leaving you feeling accomplished and less drained. Focusing on our successes sends the message to our subconscious that we are capable of achieving goals. Sending this message to our brain makes it much easier to change our behavior in other, desired ways. 

For more resources on how to live a happier life visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com and be sure to tune in to More2Life—weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 130!

The Resilient Person – Overcoming Burnout

Are you feeling tired? Uninspired? Like there’s too much to do? You’re not alone. These are all typical signs of the very common experience of burnout. But the good news is, you can overcome burnout and build your resilience in your every day life just by making a few simple changes. 

Theology of The Body reminds us that although the world is fallen, God is working through us to build the kingdom or set the world on fire. That rebuilding starts in our lives and our relationships. Sometimes that job can feel too hard, like we can’t do it on our own, and of course we can’t. But there are a few tips we can draw from the Theology of the Body to persevere even when we feel burned out. First we need to keep our eyes, not on what’s in front of us, but rather on how God wants to work through us to make the situation into what he wants it to be. Second, we need to remember that it isn’t all up to us. We need to keep bringing the situation to God and asking him to help us discern the next small step. Third, we need to lean into virtue. We need to prayerfully ask, “What are the virtues or strengths we need to apply to this situation to glorify God in our response?” Fourth, we need to look at failure–not as a closed door–but as feedback that we bring back to prayer and then leads us back thought these steps until we find the solution. If we can work this process, we can fulfill the promise that St Paul makes in Romans 8:28 that to those who love God, all things work to the good.

Here are three, small, concrete changes that will help you overcome burnout and build your resilience:

1.  Center Yourself– When you’re struggling to recover from a setback or disappointment, before doing anything else, the first step has to be centering yourself.  First, bring the situation to God, pray, “Lord, help me rest in you, trust in your grace, and gather the resources and support I need to make a plan and see this through.”  Then refocus on yourself on a goal–any goal–that represents the next small step you can take.  You’ll feel less like running away if you can identify the next step forward and focus on gathering the resources to help you take that next step.

2.  Get Out of the Tunnel–We often find it hard to bounce back from disappointments because tunnel vision causes us to get stuck trying to find the ONE BIG THING we can do to solve this problem ONCE & FOR ALL.  Especially with more complicated situations, there is rarely one thing you can do to make the problem disappear. Instead, concentrate on the next small thing you can do to EITHER address the problem OR insulate yourself from the problem OR BOTH.  Focusing on small steps you can take in several areas– instead of searching for ultimate answers to the one big question–allows you to come out of the tunnel and begin to see new options on the horizon.

3. Make A “Got It Done” List–We all know about To-Do lists but what about making a “Got it Done” list?  Sometimes we struggle with bouncing back from a problem or setbacks because we feel like we’re  just not up to the challenge.  You can combat these feelings by intentionally calling to mind–and better yet, writing down–all the PAST times in your life when you were sure you weren’t up to a challenge but, through God’s grace and your good efforts, you managed to succeed.  Making a “Got It Done List: will help you remember that you have conquered many difficult situations before and remind you that between you and God, there is nothing you can’t handle moving forward.

For more on overcoming burnout and effectively handling the stress in your life, check out Unworried—A Life Without Anxiety and visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com.

Authentic Optimism – How Do We Actually Make Our Lives Better?

Sometimes it feels like it’s hard to be optimistic in the midst of stressful situations. But often this is due to a misunderstanding of what true optimism really means.

Theology of The Body reminds us that optimism isn’t rooted in wishing our problems away or telling ourselves pretty lies about how things aren’t really as bad as they seem.  TOB explains that our optimism is rooted in the fact that at the beginning of time, God had a plan for the world and that–in spite of sin thwarting that plan in the present–God’s plan will be restored through grace at the end of time.  The fact is, as St Paul reminds us in Rom 8:28 all things work to the good for those who love God.

A study by Boston University School of Medicine found that optimistic people live up to 15% longer and are up to 70% more likely to live to at least age 85.

This study demonstrated that optimism isn’t so much a trait as it is a skill made up of three qualities:

-Goal orientation: Rather than “thinking positively” optimistic people acknowledge that bad things are bad, but they ask. “What can I make of this?”  (c.f. Rom 8:28).

-Gratitude: Optimistic people intentionally recall their blessings, strengths, and skills as a reminder of what they have to work with in responding to life’s challenges.

-Gregariousness: Optimistic people maintain a sense of community and actively work to find ways to be a blessing to others even when they are struggling.

So how do we become more optimistic in our daily lives?

1. Keep the Big Picture in Mind–Joy requires us to be able to step out of the chaos of everyday life and remember who we are and what’s important. This requires us to stay connected to God–to be able to see things from his point of view. Find ways to bring the present moment to God no matter how crazy it is. Ask him, “What do you want this moment to look like? How can I respond to this in a way that glorifies you?” Then re-engage the situation from this more graceful perspective.  Keeping the big picture in mind helps you remain connected to what’s important

2. Be Kind–True joy comes from seeking little ways to be a gift to others all day long.  As you go about your day, consciously ask yourself how you can make a difference in this moment?  Is there something you can do to make this person’s day even a little easier or more pleasant?  Is there something you can do to take down the tension in this situation?  Is there some way you can surprise someone with a small thoughtful gesture or little act of service? You don’t have to be a martyr about it.  In fact, it’s better if you aren’t.  Just look for those little ways to be a gift or create caring connection while you’re passing by or passing through.  These little acts of kindness increase your joy by helping you see all the ways you are making a positive difference in your world and in the lives of those around you.

3. Stay In School–Research shows that joyful people are eager students in the “school of life.”  Joyful people are always open to seeing things from a new perspective, trying a new experience, and growing in ways that help them be stronger, healthier, more well-rounded people.  Joyful people aren’t shy about sharing what they like.  They know who they are and what they stand for, but they are open to discovering all the ways God is revealing himself to them through the people and the world around them.  And the more ways we open ourselves to this experience of God the more his grace makes us joyful. So, be yourself, but don’t be afraid to be more, learn more and grow more.

 

For more on increasing authentic optimism in your life, checkout God Help Me! This Stress is Driving Me Crazyand tune in to More2Life, weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXm 130!

The Small Changes That Lead To Greater Happiness

Do you ever just feel “off,” but you don’t know why? Everything seems to be fine, daily life is running along relatively smoothly, but you just feel down, melancholy, or disconnected from life/others?

A new study out of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and Texas A&M reveals that making small changes—such as smiling more—can make an impact on our emotions and overall mood. It seems like a small change, but a meta-analysis of 138 studies demonstrates that smiling really can make us happier. 

“We don’t think that people can smile their way to happiness,” lead researcher, Nicholas Coles, said. “But these findings are exciting because they provide a clue about how the mind and the body interact to shape our conscious experience of emotion.”

If simply smiling more can make an impact on our emotions, what are some other ways for us to lift our mood and feel reconnected?

Acts of kindness—Buy coffee for the person behind you in line, pick up flowers for your significant other on your way home from work, volunteer at the local food pantry. Acts of kindness give us the opportunity to go outside of ourselves and do something to help and bring joy to others. In return, this helps us to feel more positive, purpose driven, and connected to others!

Set daily goals—Setting small, daily goals allows us to feel proactive, productive, and in control. These goals can be anything from doing one load of laundry, to spending five minutes outside, or even simply brushing your teeth on days where accomplishing a larger goal just doesn’t feel doable. Choose whatever small, attainable goal appeals to you each day. It’s not about the task itself, its about the feeling of accomplishment!

Pray—Take time to pray each day. Share with God what you are thinking and feeling. No emotion is too big or small for God to handle. Ask God to help you express your emotions in ways that glorify Him. Setting aside time to pray, or simply praying as we go about your daily activities helps us to feel reconnected to God, to our surroundings, and to our purpose. 

Listen to music—Listen to music that reflects the mood you want to be in, not the mood that you are in. Often when we are sad, angry, etc. we listen to music that reflects that mood. This typically causes us to remain in this mood, however, listening to music that reflects the mood you want to be in (i.e. listening to happy music when you are sad or listening to energetic music when you are tired) actually causes us to adjust to a mood that better matches the music we are listening to. Surprisingly, this can make a big difference in our emotions throughout the day. 

For more on increasing positive emotions, check out Unworried: A Life Without Anxiety and tune in to More2Life—weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 130!

Simple Tips For Living a More Joyful Life

shutterstock_502928584

We tend to think that joy is a product of stepping away from life and finding little ways to take a break or enjoy ourselves. While that can be important, just doing this only leads to fleeting moments of happiness. But how do we find real joy in our daily life without having to take time away from work, family, or the other aspects of our lives?

Theology of the Body reminds us that Joy is the fruit of living a meaningful, intimate, and virtuous life. Joy is that quality that allows us to have a deeper sense of rightness and contentment about our lives even when things are a little crazy or not going the way we’d like. Because Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, you can’t pursue Joy directly. Cultivating joy means dedicating oneself to a life of meaningfulness, intimacy, and virtue regardless of our circumstances.

Here are three More2LifeHacks for Cultivating Joy in your Heart:

Keep the Big Picture in Mind–Joy requires us to be able to step out of the chaos of everyday life and remember who we are and what’s important. This requires us to stay connected to God–to be able to see things from his point of view. Find ways to bring the present moment to God no matter how crazy it is. Ask him, “What do you want this moment to look like? How can I respond to this in a way that glorifies you?” Then re-engage the situation from this more graceful perspective. Keeping the big picture in mind helps you remain connected to what’s important.

Be Kind–True joy comes from seeking little ways to be a gift to others all day long.  As you go about your day, consciously ask yourself how you can make a difference in this moment?  Is there something you can do to make this person’s day even a little easier or more pleasant?  Is there something you can do to take down the tension in this situation?  Is there some way you can surprise someone with a small thoughtful gesture or little act of service? You don’t have to be a martyr about it.  In fact, it’s better if you aren’t.  Just look for those little ways to be a gift or create caring connection while you’re passing by or passing through.  These little acts of kindness increase your joy by helping you see all the ways you are making a positive difference in your world and in the lives of those around you.

– Stay In School–Research shows that joyful people are eager students in the “school of life.”  Joyful people are always open to seeing things from a new perspective, trying a new experience, and growing in ways that help them be stronger, healthier, more well-rounded people.  Joyful people aren’t shy about sharing what they like.  They know who they are and what they stand for, but they are open to discovering all the ways God is revealing himself to them through the people and the world around them.  And the more ways we open ourselves to this experience of God the more his grace makes us joyful. So, be yourself, but don’t be afraid to be more, learn more and grow more.

For more tips on living a joy-filled life, tune in to More2Life Monday-Friday 10am E/9am C on Sirius XM 139 and check out my book, The Life God Wants You to Have!

More2Life Hack: Living A More Joyful Life

image via shutterstock

image via shutterstock

It seems as though so many things in life are constantly trying to steal our joy. From politics, to work stress, to the craziness of daily life, it can be hard to find the joy in each day.

We tend to think that joy is a product of stepping away from life and finding little ways to take a break or enjoy ourselves.  Taking breaks can be important, but while doing this can lead to fleeting moments of happiness, it doesn’t lead to joy. The Theology of the Body reminds us that Joy is the fruit of living a meaningful, intimate, and virtuous life. Joy is that quality that allows us to have a deeper sense of rightness and contentment about our lives even when things are a little crazy or not going the way we’d like.  Because Joy is a FRUIT of the Holy Spirit, you can’t pursue Joy directly. Cultivating joy means dedicating oneself to a life of meaningfulness, intimacy, and virtue regardless of our circumstances.

Here are three More2Life Hacks for cultivating joy in your heart:

1. Keep the Big Picture in Mind–Joy requires us to be able to step out of the chaos of everyday life and remember who we are and what’s important.  This requires us to stay connected to God–to be able to see things from his point of view. Find ways to bring the present moment to God no matter how crazy it is. Ask him, “What do you want this moment to look like? How can I respond to this in a way that glorifies you?” Then re-engage the situation from this more graceful perspective. Keeping the big picture in mind helps you remain connected to what’s important

2. Be Kind–True joy comes from seeking little ways to be a gift to others all day long. As you go about your day, consciously ask yourself how you can make a difference in this moment? Is there something you can do to make this person’s day even a little easier or more pleasant? Is there something you can do to take down the tension in this situation? Is there some way you can surprise someone with a small thoughtful gesture or little act of service? You don’t have to be a martyr about it. In fact, it’s better if you aren’t. Just look for those little ways to be a gift or create caring connection while you’re passing by or passing through. These little acts of kindness increase your joy by helping you see all the ways you are making a positive difference in your world and in the lives of those around you.

3. Stay In School–Research shows that joyful people are eager students in the “school of life.”  Joyful people are always open to seeing things from a new perspective, trying a new experience, and growing in ways that help them be stronger, healthier, more well-rounded people.  Joyful people aren’t shy about sharing what they like. They know who they are and what they stand for, but they are open to discovering all the ways God is revealing himself to them through the people and the world around them.  And the more ways we open ourselves to this experience of God the more his grace makes us joyful. So, be yourself, but don’t be afraid to be more, learn more and grow more.

For more information on how to live a more Joyful life, check out my book Broken Gods: Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart, or give us a call at Pastoral Solutions Institute (740.266.6461)

Don’t forget to tune in to More2Life, weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN Global Catholic Radio/SiriusXM 130.

5 Steps To More Joyful Living

Image via Shutterstock. Used with permission.

Image via Shutterstock. Used with permission.

Today on More2Life Radio, Lisa and I revealed what our Catholic faith and the latest studies from positive psychology have to teach us about living more joyfully.

Does God Want Us to Be Happy?

A lot of Christians question whether God wants us to be be happy.  I’ve even heard people say, “God doesn’t want us to be happy.  He wants us to be holy.”  But as I argue in Broken Gods:  Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart, the two are far from mutually exclusive.   To be holy is to dedicate ourselves to pursuing a closer relationship with God.  Drawing closer to God helps us to discover God’s plan for our life and when we function according to that plan, we are are happy to be functioning as we were designed to function.  Authentic happiness does not stand in opposition to holiness.  It is made possible by it.  As Pope St. John Paul the Great put it. “People are made for happiness. Rightly, then, you thirst for happiness. Christ has the answer to this desire of yours. But he asks you to trust him.

5 Skills for Increasing Happiness in Your Life

Using the acronym STAGE (Savor, Thanks, Aspire, Give, Empathize), here are 5 skills to practice that can help you increase the joy in your daily life.

Savor–refers to our ability to pause, reflect and live life more mindfully.  To savor our day mean to both recognize the blessings of the day and to reflect on the direction of our life and relationships.  Savoring life allows us to really connect and be present in the moment,to enjoy each moment for what it is, and make conscious decisions about the direction of my life.  Research consistently shows that the ability to be mindful is directly related

Thanks–contributes to joy by helping us be grateful.  Ample research shows that simple gratitude-based activities, like keeping a daily list of 3-5 things we are genuinely grateful for, can increase our “happiness set-point” by at least 20%.

Aspire–refers to our ability to set goals and meet them.  Whether setting and keeping larger life goals, or setting simple goals for the day, the more we are confident in our ability to set and meet goals the more “self-efficacy” we have.  Self-efficacy refers to our capacity to know we can do what we set out to do. It goes to our sense of personal power which contributes to our experience of joy because we are less likely to feel we must simply be dragged along wherever life wants to take us.

Give–reminds us that being self-donative–being generous with our time, talent–, and treasure is an important way to remember that we have the power to contribute to the well-being of others which, in turn, makes us feel good about who we are and what we have.   In Broken Gods (see chapter on The Divine Longing for Trust) I walk readers through several studies that show how  generosity is a key component of joyful living.

Empathize–the more we can make true heart-to-heart connections with those who share our lives the more joy we will experience.  Research consistently shows that the stronger our relationships and social networks are, the happier we will be.  Empathy is the quality that transforms a host of causal acquaintances into true friends who care deeply for us and about whom we can care deeply in return.

Everyone wants to be happier.  With these five skills, you can set the STAGE for greater happiness and real joy in your life.  For more tips on increasing the happiness and joy in your life, check out Broken Gods: Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart.

 

 

Cultivating Joy

Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thess 5:16-18).    That’s a tall order St Paul lays on us.  It can be hard to remain joyful even when times are good, but it’s especially challenging when life becomes complicated or downright difficult.  The first thing to remember is that while joy and happiness are related, they aren’t the same thing.  Happiness is more fleeting and dependent upon our environment, while joy is a state of being that allows us to hold on to a sense of rightness, connectedness and peace even through difficult times.  Here are a few tips to help you cultivate joy in challenging times.

1.  Don’t Pretend.

Many believe that being joyful means pretending that things are better than they are, but true joy can only flourish in a spirit of authenticity.  It’s ok to admit you have problems.  Dealing with problems joyfully means reminding yourself of all the times you’ve made it through difficulties before, all the times God has delivered you from previous challenges, and then making a plan–in graceful confidence–to overcome the challenges you are facing in the here and now.  To hold on to joy through trials, praise God for his past providence and make a plan for the future.

2.  Pray

Research consistently shows that prayer improves well-being.  The more we pray the more resilient we are and the more peaceful we will be.  Cultivating an active prayer life is key to maintaining the attitudes (and grace) that makes joy possible.

3.  Reflect on Past Successes.

We can have a tendency to dwell on the hard bits of past experience and de-emphasize the fact that we made it through in one piece (or even with flying colors).  The more we can focus on the ways God has come through for us in the past and the times we have successfully overcome hardship the more we are able to draw meaning from past struggles and the more we can do that, the more hopeful we can be that our present trials will be meaningful too.

4.  Maintain Rituals and Routines.

A large part of cultivating joy is maintaining our connection with others.  The best way to do that is creating and keeping up rituals and routines like family meals, prayer times, game nights, family fun days, etc.  Having regular, scheduled, expected times to connect with others is critical.  When hard times hit, we tend to jettison our rituals and routines first.  That’s a tragic mistake.  A nice family meal in the middle of a crisis can be a port in the storm.  A game night can be the eye of the hurricane.   To keep up your joy, maintain the rituals that keep up your connection with others and the routines that give order to your life.

5.  Be a Blessing.

Another big part of joy is feeling that your life is making a difference to others.  Even if you’re going through a tough time, ask yourself everyday, “What is one small thing I can do to make someone’s life a little easier or more pleasant?”   It takes a little effort on the front end–especially if you’re having a bad day/week/month/year yourself–but it gets you out of your head and helps you see that you really do have the power to change things for the better.  Being generous to others gives you the hope you need to apply your resources more effectively in your own life.

6.  Laugh, Dammit!

We tend to think that humor has to surprise us to count.   That’s not true.  Especially when you’re going  through a rough patch, you need to  intentionally seek out opportunities to laugh.  Go out with that friend who always helps you put things in perspective.  Go to that funny movie.  Watch that commedian you like or those silly videos on YouTube.   Make yourself seek out laughable moments.  There is a lot of science behind the notion that intentionally seeking out laughter is tremendously healing and focuses your mind in a way that puts problems in perspective and enables you to become more aware of resources you have previously overlooked.   There is a reason that psychologists consider humor one of the most effective and sophisticated defense mechanisms.  Cultivating joy obviously involves more than trying to turn your life into a laugh riot, but turing to laughter, especially when you’re going through hardships, stops you from ruminating about all the negative stuff in your life and enables you to find the little blessing that make life worthwhile.

 

The goods news is, you can become a more joyful person regardless of the circumstances you find yourself in.  Joy enables us to find meaning, confidence, and peace even through the most imperfect of days.  You don’t have to wait for it to happen to you.  You can go out and find it.

 

Coming Fri 4/19 to More2Life Radio: Hanging on to Joy

COMING FRI on M2L–Hanging on to Joy.   In light of the events of this week, we’re looking at the challenge of holding on to joy through difficult times.  We’ll look at what joy is and what it takes to experience joy even when things aren’t as they should be. If you’d like more joy in your life, call in to discuss what’s holding you back at 877-573-7825 from Noon-1pm Eastern (11am-Noon C)

Don’t forget to respond to our M2L FB Q of the D:  (Two-fer.  Answer one or both) 1.  When, in the course of your week, are you most joyful?   2.  What do you think it takes to be a joyful person?

Can’t get M2L on a Catholic radio station near you? Tune in live online at www.avemariaradio.net, listen via our FREE AveMariaRadio IPhone or Android App (Check your app store!), or catch the M2L Podcast (also at avemariaradio.net)