Why this blog?

Because wherever you are, you can have more happiness and for more of the time than you ever imagined. 'Do more of what you like, and less of what you don't!' (c) Richard Walker, 2009. And because happiness is often misunderstood. "Do you live to work, or do you work to live?" I reckon happy people do both at the same time. Make the decision now to tenaciously seek out what feels good – and find ways of doing more of it - rather than settle for “not bad.” There's a big difference. And when it comes to making changes, that's what I specialise in at abetterlife-uk.com and http://hertscollegeofhypnosisandnlp.co.uk

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Friday, August 30, 2013

Keep your plants happy too - or else!

Having plants in your office or home is thought to bring a calming effect to the working environment. But neglect them at your peril! They well send out hate waves. Honest. This warm weather can all too easily leave your plants thirsty and, until now, they had no way of telling you that they are unhappy. 
At team of researchers at Keio University figured out a way of helping plants express emotions and communicate with people through different movements--in quite a straightforward way. The shrub is placed in a special plant pot, containing string and motors. The strings are hooked up to different parts of the plant, and the motors will pull on theme, causing the plant to jerk to life.
The movements are timed with two sensors attached to the plants, a microphone, and a motion sensor. The plant will then react to the movements and sounds around it. The researchers currently have a number of emotions the plant can convey, such as anger or happiness from being stroked. The plants in the image and video below have been rigged up to the motor system for around a year now, and have yet to wilt from the stress of being pulled around.
The team hope that the project will encourage people to communicate with plants in their daily rountine, plus the researchers want to make bigger versions of the system for different types of plant.
So just remember, the next time you bad-mouth your office greenery, it will actually hear you, and respond accordingly! Also never, ever consider kicking a tree again: it might just hit you back. And there is a video of how it works too here: http://www.techhive.com/article/253224/plants_display_emotion_will_get_mad_if_you_forget_to_water_them.html

Friday, August 16, 2013

Change Your Brain – Change Your Life: FACT

Mark Waldman, who I mentioned in my previous article, carries out brain scan research at Penn University New York. In a recent lecture, Mark explained how brain research demonstrates that Big Ideas will change your brain – any really big idea - will grow neural connections (dendrites) in your brain.
Now, some ideas are good for your brain, and some are not. Money – or the fear of losing money – brain scans show this affecting the brain structure and function within seconds.  
How can a single idea, word or thought change your brain? It can and it does. All big ideas arise first in your frontal lobes. This information is sent to your thalamus – a grand central “station” – which creates for you what you think is going on “out there” in the outside world.
The thalamus may send the information to your occipital lobes – where you get to create a vision of what you want to create or achieve in the world. So your vision, and your big idea, can come together. But what's really important is that the information is sent to your parietal lobes (at the rear of your brain), and this creates an artificial construction of YOU – who you think you are does not exist in the real world. You are a fantasy. This part creates who you “are” in your mind.
If you begin to meditate and obsess on your big idea, on your dream, then you begin to align your (created) self, with your dream, goal and vision.
By the way, if dream is positive, it will stimulate parts of your brain which are enormously healthy – even add years to your life. Negative or destructive thoughts – like revenge or war – will stimulate harmful reverse affects in your brain. When you grumble, complain and get frustrated – you are killing yourself.
If you meditate on your big idea, for about 45 mins, the most unusual thing begins to happen,. Your parietal lobe activity falls off, and you actually begin to “disappear”; you are losing your “ego”. All that remains is your big idea; it floods your brain and in fact becomes your reality! It becomes all that exists to you. Can you get the power of this?
If you do this type of meditation regularly, within 8 wks the thalamus changes 10% of its structure. You actually cannot see reality the same way any more. So will you meditate on a positive set of ideas?
Find you big idea and meditate on it. Negative thoughts stimulate the amygdala – which is Latin for almond (its shape) - and it literally is the part of your brain that makes you go nuts. Research shows that if you look at a list of negative words, you get worse. Shown the word “No” for one second, will release more stress neuro chemicals than can possibly be good for you. When we see a positive word – hardly anything happens. Why? Because we are wired for threats, and this is no threat. That is why we have to OBSESS – meditate -  on our positive ideas for a very long time to get the benefits.
So what are big ideas? What is the biggest in your life? Here is the question to discover it – and it s not “what makes you happy?” It’s about values. Values are those ideas. Concepts, desires that are important to you, and which you would get energised to satisfy.  It’s simply this – but close your eyes first, and begin to change your brain.
Breathe in deeply, stretch, move around a bit in your chair, and …. Yawwwwn. 43 documented studies that show it is one of the eight best ways to exercise your brain.
Now think about something, or someone you deeply love. Then ask yourself this question: “What is my deepest, innermost value?” - the single phrase or word. This is your most important value which will change your world. It will change your life. When you share your deepest belief, you will find connections to the fundamentals of life itself. It will more peace into your heart, and if you bring them into your speech, with a smile and a soft gaze in your eyes, as you speak slowly for just short periods of time, you will change the listener. It’s called neuro-resonance. It is the key to getting along with others. 
You can watch Mark in his lecture for the highly respected TED series at http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/TEDxConejo-Mark-Robert-Waldman

Friday, August 9, 2013

Happy Science is Serious

Mark Waldman is Associate Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, where he conducts neurological research with Andrew Newberg, MD, at Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine, and also develops new communication tools for the Executive MBA program at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles.
I recently listened to him present his findings on the nature of the brain and how it is almost instantaneously permanently affected by how we think. His work clearly demonstrates how the brain’s frontal lobes dream up realities which we perceive as true reality. Literally we make up our own reality and we have no choice. The pictures we “see” bear very little relation to what the eyes are seeing in the world!
Now, the next thing he spoke of is the brain’s “fear centre” in the amygdala. The brain appears to have two core functions: the first is the reward centre or “desire to acquire” circuitry. Provided that as we perceive something as non-threatening, it generates curiosity and releases dopamine and we get motivated.
The second core function is the “fear centre” in the tiny part of the brain called the amygdale. If something is perceived as potentially threatening, like a loud sound or bad smell, then amygdala releases different neuro-chemicals and shuts down the motivational centre. It overrides and effectively “shouts down” desire, curiosity and motivation. As a consequence of this, you cannot be in a state of “growth” or improvement  whilst there is fear around in the brain. 
So, the whilst the left frontal lobe moves us towards desire, the right frontal lobe builds scary scenarios and pulls up old struggles, making you anxious about them repeating and things going wrong. Then we get in a kind of struggle, which if it goes on long enough the build-up of anxiety can lead to depression. 
He also talked of medical research which shows that drugs cannot defeat placebo – in other words, your beliefs will override any antidepressants. The ideas you hold about yourself and the world are more powerful than the drugs themselves! Furthermore, medical science has noted that this effect is getting stronger and stronger.
In other words, the way you choose to think about your life – your belief system – is stronger than antidepressant drugs. Negative thoughts release around twenty-five stress-related chemicals and enough to begin to damage the learning circuits in the brain. Your inner anxieties actually damage the brain, in less than minutes, and knock off around two years of your life expectancy. 
Concerned? You daren’t be! Take action instead. 
What can you do? Well it’s brain work. Meditating has been shown to be very effective. You could use techniques to cancel negative beliefs and doubts about the practical possibility of having true happiness in your life; I teach hypnosis and NLP, but there other techniques too. Mark offered this simple example list of proven techniques for modifying thoughts (which will go away if you catch them and question them hard enough): 
·     Write down every negative thought that you have. You will amaze yourself to discover that hundreds more then you think you have! Then take the first one – get mad at it (tell it to “shut the heck up”); words are just words – they are not reality
·     Challenge the negative thought; is it really true - right now? Eg. “I’m always late“: Ask “Is it true that you are late right now?” No. “This thought that I’m always late is not true”
·     Become aware of both negative and positive thoughts at the same time, and then make a choice as to which to go with.
·     Look at percentage of the time that these negative thoughts actually are true.
·     Cancel them by generate at least five positive thoughts for every single negative one. Write them down; writing down a positive thought is far more powerful than thinking it.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Democratic Happiness?

Did you know that David Cameron has been taking his advice from an economist on how to shape government policy around public happiness?

Richard Layard in a professor of economics, and he wrote a book on happiness and how we should achieve it. As you might expect, it is a very rational, logical book. But stop there just a moment – he’s an economist! What would you make of it if a psychologist wrote a book advising us on the economy? Yet his words were strongly heard by the ears of the last government, as well as this. It led to the launch of the national happiness survey by the government’s Office of National Statistics (ONS).

Layard’s BIG IDEA is founded on a principle belonging to the 18th century, and long since discredited. It goes like this:
  1. everything you do should be evaluated solely on the value of the results it produces - in this case, happiness
  2. every kind of happiness, whatever you do to achieve it, is equal
  3. all decisions, all policy, should aim to achieve the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people.
These ideas formed the basis of Ultilitatrian Theory, and the happiness ideas were originally proposed in 1725 by Glaswegian Professor Francis Hutcheson in his work “Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue.” He advocated that the best actions are those that result in the greater happiness of the greatest number. This was later adopted and developed by Jeremy Bentham, with whose name it is most often associated.

As regards the first principle,
Bentham urged us simply to question the usefulness, or utility, of what we do in delivering either “pleasure” or “pain.” Nothing more, nothing less. No Morality. No Ethics. No need to consider consequences for others, the world or anything else. Simply, “feel good, or feel bad?” - Just do it (didn't Nike ads say that?)


Now add the policy that we should aim to maximise this, for the greatest number of people. So if a crowd decide they want to lynch you, it’s fine. The greatest number get the greatest happiness. Are you okay with this? Could it sound just a little like rule by the lowest common denominator? Or mob rule? Some say that’s precisely what democracy amounts to (Plato took this view).

Darrin McMahon, who wrote the superb book “A History of Happiness” said it was potentially dangerous, and could result in sacrificing the few in favour of the many. John Stewart Mill, back in 1863, famously challenged Bentham’s central theme that all pleasure or happiness is equal, arguing that “It is better to be a human being dissatisfied, than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied that a fool satisfied.”

Let’s update it a little. Is the happiness experienced by footballer Wayne Rooney in scoring a goal as valuable as Churchill’s satisfaction over the defeat of Hitler’s Wehrmacht? What do you think? You can easily make up your own comparisons.

In 1843 Thomas Carlyle queried why we have not yet found happiness despite all the promises of the new liberty from control by the church and divine principles. He attacked the Benthamites for failing to deliver their “greatest happiness for all”, and that in fact this policy was achieving the very opposite. Some might say that we are still seeing increasing unhappiness. Statistics seem to support this.

Darwin
, interestingly, explicitly rejected Bentham’s utilitarianism. He argued the  opposite view, “that natural selection produced pleasure only if that pleasurable state induced beneficial actions.” For Darwin, the driving force was group survival and the survival of the happiest, terms which he seemed use interchangeably with the general good.


A final thought: it is an ancient Hindu principle that happiness should always include an element of looking after society, religion, family and your profession, which in turn contributes towards a broader stability in the cosmos, nature, and society. In short, it is a goal of both personal and universal equilibrium, and a very high level and significant kind of happiness. Just an idea to wonder about.