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10 Ways to Center Your Life Around Happiness

Dr. Dacher Keltner says our brains are wired for compassion.

Recently  in Atherton invited Dr. Dacher Keltner, UC Berkeley psychologist and executive member of the Greater Good Science Center, to speak about ways to create a more meaningful life centered around happiness.

His ideas around this new scientific research into social and emotional well-being, which he calls the “science of a meaningful life,” help individuals explore and apply tangible ways to being happy through strong social bonds and altruistic behavior. He presented research-backed evidence that our brains and nervous systems are wired for compassion and that it is fundamental to our happiness, health, and to developing strong communities around us

His talk inspired listeners to challenge themselves through his tips below, to increase the opportunities for kindness and thoughtfulness toward others in order to build a more meaningful life, while at the same time influencing the same for family, friends and beyond in the community at large. 

Here are his talk's ten takeaways:  

1) Connect   Take time to really make a connection, whether it’s a fist bump with your son to remembering the name of the owner at the dry cleaners, or making eye contact with a stranger. Connecting with those around you and within the community is important for one’s well-being, creating happier individuals. 

2) Trust    Keltner says we should build a trusting mind, and talk about others in terms of good intentions. Trust is a key element in one’s welfare, which will create a comforting and safe environment.

3) Give   The Dalai Lama said it best: “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion; if you want to be happy, practice compassion.” With our busy lives and schedules, we often forget about the small things we can do to help those in need. Volunteering a few hours a month or donating funds to an organizations you believe in can go a long way in your happiness quotient factor, according to Keltner.

4) Play   Spend more time in “play” mode: play games with your kids, make up endearing nick names for friends, or just make fun of yourself.  Being in “play” mode enhances our health, creativity and promotes conflict resolution.

5) Appreciate   Be thankful for the wonderful things in your life and what has been given to you; write and send that thank you card we’ve all been meaning to send to someone, whether it’s for a recent gift, or just to say thanks for being a friend. Keltner suggested keeping a gratitude diary, and once a week, in which you write down what you are grateful for. He reports that doing this has been shown to boost one’s overall happiness in life.

6) Acceptance   Accept that people are not perfect and different. Recognize that everyone has a different opinion, way of life, or political affiliation, and accept them for who they are, and speak of them respectfully, however different their views may be than yours.

7) Optimism   The glass is half-full. It’s reported that optimistic people report higher levels of overall well-being and happiness and higher levels of positive emotion.

8) Contemplation   Spend time in reflection and contemplation. Focus on your breathing, the mindfulness of your body, and then of loving kindness. When you imagine someone you love or imagine someone who is suffering, it evokes altruistic feelings of warmth and compassion. Keltner suggests thinking of someone who is important to you and then wish for their happiness; then extend it to another person to broaden your circle of care. 

9) Narrative   If there is something bothering you, put it down on paper, and pen your strongest emotions or facts of the event. Keltner states that writing about a traumatic or troubling event in one’s life has been shown to increase happiness, enhance the immune function, and reduce anxiety and depression.

10) The Sacred   Revere things that are sacred to you. Celebrate in the beauty of nature and art, or politics, or religion. Whatever it may be, it should have a transcendent quality that brings a large group of people to a shared sense of humanity. 

If we all pledged to employ some or all of Keltner’s suggestions, collectively we could influence the world, or at least our tiny corner of it, to be a happier, kinder, and a more compassionate society of mankind. 

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