Tips to help reset and de-stress from Science of Well Being course

To Our Harrison Family,

A technical issue on my end has delayed the interview with Dr. Missy Peretti, Harrison Township Elementary School Superintendent. But you will hopefully see it in a separate email soon. Amid the COVID whirlwind of spreading spikes, economic impact, school reopening and lifestyle limitations, let’s take a breath today. For just a few minutes. That should be easy enough, right?

Recently, my experience with The Science of Well-Being course taught me otherwise. It’s not easy to just relax because our brains are wired to default to process that allows negative perspectives to dominate our thoughts. You may recall, as I concluded my series on the course, I wrote about the assignments in the final weeks of the course. Dr. Laurie Santos identified exercises to “Rewire” our brains to eliminate “default” negative feelings. 

I was fascinated by the findings of the various studies she referenced in the course. One such finding, that greatly contributes to our inability to achieve real happiness, is our use of Reference Points to judge our own happiness level. The course went into great detail about the Olympic Gold Medal Podium syndrome, the Kardashian reality TV effect and our new-found addiction to social media. All of these things, the course pointed out, contribute to our negative perspective of our own station in life. We compare our job, income, house, car, stuff and relationships to these standards. It makes total sense to think that an Olympic Silver Medalist will actually feel unhappy having come up just short of the ultimate prize. Whereas, the Bronze Medalist is ecstatic having just made the podium. But Silver is better than Bronze, right?

This Reference Point “Annoying Feature of the Mind” effects all of us every day and we don’t even realize it. This reality hit home for me while taking the course, so I was open to trying some of the exercises Dr. Santos offered as a way to “reset” my Reference Points. As I said during my explanation of the course, there is no magic pill. Making this adjustment takes time and a commitment, very similar to dieting or exercise. You don’t see results in a day or week, necessarily. But over an extended period, amazing results are possible. The same is true for this Reference Point resetting. 

So, experiment with one of the exercises that you think you could incorporate into your daily routine. The simplest, but perhaps most difficult, action you can take is stay away from your social media accounts for a while. Seriously. Do not look at your Facebook or Instagram accounts for one day…then two….then a week. Can you do it? Especially if you’re addicted to the celebrity feeds that show your their rich ‘n famous lifestyles. That becomes what you compare your world to and that’s ridiculous, lol. 

Another reset exercise involves reminding yourself where you came from, both literally and figuratively. We tend to forget that and constantly raise the bar on our income, career path and success level. So, give yourself a reminder by posting a pic or word/ phrase in a place you’ll see every day. Perhaps as a screensaver on your phone or your refrigerator door? Something that reminds you where you were when you dreamed of being where you are now. This will level-set your mind repeatedly to appreciate all you have already achieved instead of only focusing you what you don’t have right now.  Btw, this applies to relationship and enjoyment levels you have, not just stuff, lol. The course calls this exercise Concrete Remembering. It works….over time.

The last exercise I’ll mention today (because there are others) is the intentional and consistent expression of Gratitude. This sounds so simple, in fact, easy. But most of us do not tell people in our lives how thankful we are……for anything! The studies referenced in the Yale course confirm that people who express gratitude to others on a consistent basis, feel happier and live less stressful lives. So, the simple exercise is to intentionally express gratitude once a week. Do it in the form of an intentional conversation with a loved one or co-worker or neighbor; or even a stranger you meet somewhere, like a Checkout Clerk at the grocery store.  It doesn’t have to be planned or a specific length of time. Maybe you’d prefer to write a letter or email to someone and tell them your thankful for something to do with them? The objective is for you to “express” these sentiments because that process will make you feel happier. 

If nothing else, this COVID crisis has forced us to slow down and look inward a bit. This course proclaims that a simple little adjustment in our behavior can change things drastically in our lives. We see that effect from the limitations placed on us during this unprecedented experience. Why not decide to move the needle a bit in how happy we feel? It’s up to you. 

Together for Harrison Township,
Lou Manzo
Your Mayor