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Mental subtraction of relationships (DW#660)

All of us have relationships in our lives that are a blessing and also perhaps a relationship or two that can feel like quite a challenge at times.

It is easy for the challenging relationship to take up more than its fair share of space in our mental and emotional bandwidth. Today’s practice can help redress this balance.

The next time you are with a group of friends and/or family, try this:

1. Pause for a moment and consider a single person.
2. Think back to where and how you met this person. If they are a family member, recall your first memories with them.
3. Think about all of the possible events and decisions—large and small—that could have prevented you from meeting this person, or kept him or her from your life.
4. Imagine what your life would be like now if events had unfolded differently and you had never met this person, or if they had left your life at some earlier point. Bring to mind some of the joys and benefits you have enjoyed as a result of this...

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Mental subtraction (DW#659)

The practice of mental subtraction grew out of a series of experiments designed by UC Berkeley Professor Dr. Laura Kray and her colleagues. She asked people to imagine how their lives would look if a critical past turning point had never happened (e.g., meeting their spouse, getting accepted into college/university, getting a big promotion, meeting a dear friend or mentor). When the people in the experiment "mentally subtracted" this important event from their lives, it led to an increased sense of meaning and appreciation for what they had in their lives at the present time.

The practice of mental subtraction helps us pause for a moment, it bolsters feelings that life has been meaningful, and it creates a deep sense of appreciation. Rather than succumbing to the pitfall of comparing our blessings to someone who (seemingly) has more than us, the practice compares our current state with an imagined version of ourselves who has less.

So: Imagine what would your life be like without...

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A recap of what gratitude is NOT (DW#644)

Let us recap what we have been talking about over the last few days: while gratitude is one of keys to mental and emotional wellbeing, it is important to recognize what it is not.

Let us reiterate what gratitude does not mean:
It does not mean you hide your true feelings or pretend to be grateful when you do not feel it
It is not about telling others to be grateful, especially when they are experiencing depression
It is not about telling others to be grateful, especially when they are experiencing abuse
It is not about telling others to be grateful, especially when they are experiencing unfair treatment
It is not about accepting poor behaviour in relationships, especially when that behaviour is abusive
It is not about not speaking up for your needs and desires in a relationship
It is not about not working to build a relationship that works for both
It is not about accepting the status quo when that status quo includes injustice towards vulnerable populations

Now that we have a balanced view...

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Gratitude and social justice (DW#643)

Continuing with our exploration of what gratitude does NOT mean, it is important to recognize that gratitude is not a license for passivity in the face of social injustice.

Being grateful for what is present does not mean that we do not recognize the inequalities and injustices that exist in the status quo and work towards change for a better world.

In other words, there is a difference between "be grateful for what you have" and "be content with what is." It is completely okay (in fact often necessary) to be rightly ticked off about some things while also giving what you do have its full measure of attention and appreciation.

Working for change or social justice sometimes means giving a lot of attention to things that are negative, painful or unjust. When we are giving those things the attention that they need, it can lead to burnout or ongoing distress. When we continue to balance the space in our brain with gratitude for things that are positive and good, we ensure that we have a...

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Become more popular (DW#628)

An attitude of gratitude makes us more likeable and popular.

If you think about the opposite of a grateful person, the above claim makes sense. People who continuously grumble or complain about things are draining. Moreover, most of us when we encounter people who complain, feel compelled to point out their blessings to make them feel better. (this seldom works, by the way, but it does cause us to be exhausted!)

On the other hand, people who are grateful, notice the good in their lives, both in people and in circumstances. Such a person is more likely to be a positive person whose company is sort out by others as they may find themselves uplifted by the positive mood (rather than working to uplift other’s mood)

To put it in terms of psychology, gratitude generates social capital - namely goodwill, fellowship, sympathy, and social intercourse - among the individuals and families who make up a social unit. Studies have found that participants who were just 10% more grateful than...

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Gratitude keeps things fresh (DW#626)

Human beings are remarkably adaptable creatures. When something bad happens to us, after a while, we tend to get used to the new state of affairs and our happiness goes back to what it was before the negative occurrence.

This is good news, right?

This same tendency of adaptability can work against us when good things happen to us. When our circumstances change for the better – when we start earning more money, find a new love, buy a new car, recover from illness – we experience a boost in happiness and contentment. This boost in happiness though, is short lived. When the novelty or "newness" of this good fortune wears off, we get used to it and we get back to the same level of happiness (or unhappiness) that we were at before the good fortune.

Psychologists call this phenomenon hedonic adaptation. The dictionary defines hedonistic adaptation as the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness (or unhappiness) despite major...

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The 2-minute exercise to increase happiness by 25% (DW#624)

We have been hinting at how gratitude improves many markers of mental and emotional wellbeing. In everyday language, wellbeing markers simply mean how happy and satisfied you are.

Did you know that a very short practice of gratitude can boost our happiness levels by 25%?!

The very first study by Robert Emmons was very simple:

Three groups of people were asked to write a short journal entry once a week for ten weeks.

The groups had to briefly describe in a single sentence:

(Group 1) Gratitude condition: five things they were grateful for
(Group 2) Hassles condition: five things they were displeased about
(Group 3) Events condition: five neutral events

Here is how Emmons reported the results:

"What did the first study reveal? At the end of the ten weeks, we examined differences between the three groups on all of the well-being outcomes that we measured at the outset of the study. Participants in the gratitude condition felt better about their lives as a whole and were more optimistic...

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Increase your “financial patience” (DW#623)

As we discussed yesterday, practicing gratitude can counteract our tendency to give up on goals if we do not get instant gratification.

Another very interesting study has looked into how the patience and perseverance developed by gratitude plays out in financial decision making.

David DeSteno of Northwestern University led a study where participants were asked to recall an event that made them feel grateful, happy, or neutral. After writing about this event, they reported their mood and then made a series of financial decisions.

The participants in the study had an interesting choice at the end of the session: they could either take a cash reward right there or they could choose to receive a larger amount of money in the mail at a later date.

The researchers found that those who had experienced gratitude were much more likely to wait for the bigger payout.

DeSteno reported that the "financial patience" of participants in the study had increased by about 12 percent just by recalling...

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Don’t say good bye (DW#615)

O mankind! There hath come to you an admonition from your Lord and a healing for what is in your hearts. [Quran 10:58]

As we end the Holy Month of Ramadan with the festivities of Eid, let us pause for a minute and remind ourselves that the passing of the Holy Month does mean that our relationship with the Quran has to be put on hold until next year.

In the above verse from Sura Yunus, Allah reminds us that this Book has something that we human beings need: It has timeless wisdom to help us navigate the challenges of modern life by reminding us of the eternal principles of virtue in the quest of peace and happiness. For those who are receptive to its guidance, the Quran is a cure for various ailments of our hearts, including ignorance, doubt, hypocrisy, rancor, hatred, enmity, grief and despair. The book is a mercy as it helps one acquire virtue and perfection of character and adorns one with wisdom and knowledge.

So let us take the spiritual energies of this great Book of Wisdom...

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The five principles of healthy discussion (DW#614)

Let’s remind ourselves of the principles of healthy discussion and debate from the Quran which we have been exploring over the last few days

1) Use respect and compassion during conflict
and dispute with them in a manner that is best [Quran16:125].

2) Appeal to reason
Has man not seen that We created him from a drop, and behold, he is a manifest adversary?
And he has set forth for Us a parable and forgotten his own creation, saying, "Who revives these bones, decayed as they are?"
Say, "He will revive them Who brought them forth the first time, and He knows every creation [Quran 36:77-79]

3) Do not offend
Do not revile those whom they call upon besides Allah, lest they should revile God out of enmity, ignorance. [Quran 6:109]

4) Present a balanced perspective.
they ask you about wine and gambling. Say, ‘There is a great sin in both of them, and some profits for the people, but their sinfulness outweighs their profit’ [Quran 2:219].

5) Respond rather than react
Repel...

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