Ilona L. Tobin, Ed.D.

Licensed Psychologist

Archive for the ‘Happiness’ Category

We tend to focus more on gratitude and giving thanks in the fall. Consider, however, all there is to be grateful for every single day.

  1. Color. Sunsets, Gauguin paintings, green peppers, blue eyes. Imagine a world without color.
  2. Beauty. What do your eyes feast on? What splendor makes your soul rejoice? It is all around us every day. How often do you stop to drink it in?
  3. Music. What inspires you, lifts your mood? Rock & roll, African drumming, violin concertos, Turkish ud, gospel? A nightingale?
  4. Young children. They model for us innocence, faith, resilience, playfulness and unconditional love.
  5. The ability to learn. There is no age limit on learning. When we stop learning, we really stop living.
  6. Opportunity. It’s our steady companion, and it’s always ready to take us down a path yet unknown. (Hint: We just have to say “Yes!”)
  7. The plant world. From the productivity of a late-summer tomato plant to the delicate unfurling of a fern, nature’s exuberance and tenderness is something to behold.
  8. The ability to give. Every act of love benefits the giver as much as the receiver.
  9. The senses. Sight, sound, touch, taste and smell—daily miracles each of them.
  10. Change. It’s unavoidable; the only constant. Change can be unsettling or challenging. But the mystery of it and what lies beyond it can keep us young at heart.

Too much to do, too many places to be, too little time to do it all. It’s like our national anthem.

In all areas of our life—home, work, school—we are increasingly imprisoned by the perception that time is a scarce and limited resource. We rush from one commitment or activity to another and believe that we haven’t a minute to spare. We yearn for more time, yet we often feel anxious and guilty when idle.

Is this how life is supposed to be?
No! Nor does it have to be.
But until we change our relationship to time, our lives will continue to speed away from us—at enormous cost to our health and to direct experience of ourselves and the world around us.

“There is no issue, no aspect of human life, that exceeds this in importance,” says Jacob Needleman, author of Time and the Soul. “The destruction of time is literally the destruction of life.” Read the rest of this entry »

Laughter has been known as “the best medicine” long before Robin Williams’ movie portrayal of “Patch Adams,” the physician and clown who founded the Gesundheit Institute. In fact, in the 17th century, British physician Thomas Sydenham said,

“The arrival of a good clown into a village does more for its health than 20 asses laden with drugs.”

Not only is it common knowledge that laughter has all sorts of physical and mental health benefits, there’s even an organization called the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor, which has more than 3,500 doctors and health care professionals who study the effects of humor on humans.

Here’s what we know:

• Laughter decreases the amount of stress hormones in the body and increases the activity of natural killer cells that go after tumor cells.

• It has also been shown to activate the cells that boost the immune system and to increase levels of immune system hormones that fight viruses.

• Three minutes of deep belly laughing is the equivalent of three minutes on a fitness rowing


• It takes 17 muscles to smile and 43 to frown.

• By the time a child reaches kindergarten, he or she is laughing some 300 times a day. Compare that to the typical adult who, one study found, laughs a paltry 17 times a day.

• When you laugh, your heart rate goes up. You increase the blood flow to the brain, which increases oxygen. Laughter increases your respiratory rate. You breathe faster. Your lungs expand. It’s almost like jogging, only you never have to leave the house.

• With laughter, there is an increased production of catecholmanines. This increases the level of alertness, memory, and ability to learn and create.

• After you laugh, you go into a relaxed state. Your blood pressure and heart rate drop below normal, so you feel profoundly relaxed.

• When you have a deep-down belly laugh, the kind that shakes you, it releases anti-depressant mood


So with all their prods and wires and gizmos and gauges, professionals are telling us what we knew all along: when we laugh we feel better. Laughter is good social glue, too. It connects us to others and counteracts feelings of alienation. That’s why telling a joke, particularly one that illuminates a shared experience or problems, increases our sense of belonging.

Want to be more creative? Try laughing more. Humor loosens up the mental gears and encourages looking at things from a different, out-of-the ordinary perspective.

Besides spackling together our conversations and relieving tension, humor and laughter are coping mechanisms. They provide distance and perspective when situations are otherwise horrible. Laughter is one way to dissipate hurt and pain.

Finally, humor helps us contend with the unthinkable— our own mortality.

We all want it, a life that feels full in all the good ways and rich with love, meaning and satisfaction. But how you spend your life is actually determined by how you spend your days. If your days are filled with the unfulfilling, how can that amount to a fulfilling life?

A good place to start to get yourself back on the path to a meaningful life is to answer this question posed by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver: “What do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Your answer to Oliver’s question could be anything: doing work you love, caring for and giving love to your family, contributing to your community or the world, creating art, building a business, climbing mountains, making music. Anything. The key is to choose to live today how you would choose to live tomorrow and the next day and the next.

For some, the life they live day-today is not the life they would describe in answering Oliver’s question. Instead, they might use phrases such as: “As soon as…,” or “I’d like to…,” or “I used to dream…,” while explaining a daily life tangled up in too many demands, and never enough time or energy to get to the things that matter most.

It can be a question of values—our personal principles or standards, or defined another way, those qualities that are most important to us. A life based on values rather than reacting to others’ needs and wants or the acquisition of material things enables us to live in integrity with ourselves. Values help us create a rich and fulfilling life.

Identifying your values can be as simple as asking yourself how you want to be remembered by others.

As a person who cared about others? Who made a difference in the world? Who kept promises? Who was honest and trustworthy? Think of the qualities you most admire in others; these may be the values you claim for yourself.

Once you become aware of your values, you can begin to restructure your life. With your values as your touchstone, you can create and live the life you really want, achieve your goals and realize your dreams.

Within the boundaries of your values, these guidelines will help:

  1. Become clear on what you really want. Be specific; vague and undefined goals are difficult if not impossible to achieve
  2. Commit to give what it takes. Saying “yes” to one thing means saying “no” to another. Acknowledge and accept what you must give up to get what you want.
  3. Re-commit to your goals every day. Begin your day by reminding yourself what your priorities are. Be mindful as you go through your day that you are making choices.
  4. Do something every day. No matter how small, take some action toward achieving your goals. Remind yourself that a book is written word by word, a marathon run step by step.
An old Chinese proverb goes “If we don’t change our direction we are likely to end up where we are going.” If you’re caught up in a lifestyle that’s not the one that you would choose, choose again

There’s a Taoist story of an old farmer whose horse inexplicably ran away. His neighbors said, “What bad luck!” to which he replied, “Perhaps.”

The next day, the horse returned, bringing with it a wild horse. The farmer’s son tried to ride it, fell, and broke his leg. Once again, the neighbors sent their sympathy: “How terrible this is.” “Perhaps,” the farmer said.

The following day, military officials came to the village to draft every young man into the army. With his leg broken, the farmer’s son was spared from service. Read the rest of this entry »

Heather, a baker for a catering company, began having issues with one of her co-workers after he bulldozed over her experience and capability in the kitchen. After her resentment had built up to a nearly unmanageable level, she called for a meeting, during which she explained to him how she was feeling.
Read the rest of this entry »

Having a healthy dose of hope can be motivating and inspiring. It keeps people focused on what’s ahead instead of what’s in the past. It can also help keep the focus on possibilities, and reframe obstacles as opportunities.

For some, however, being hopeful goes hand-in-hand with feeling naïve or foolish when things don’t work out as planned. They would rather not have hope at all if it means later disappointment.

But for others, having hope doesn’t mean living in denial of life’s difficulties; it simply reminds them there are better times ahead.

The Benefits of Hope

Research indicates that it’s more beneficial to have hope than not. Hopeful people tend to show more resilience when faced with difficulties. They have healthier lifestyle habits and, on the whole, are more successful, personally and professionally.

According to the Mayo Clinic, having a hopeful, positive attitude has health benefits as well. These include:

  • Increased life span
  • Reduced depression
  • Lowered levels of distress
  • Increased resistance to the common cold
  • Greater emotional and psycho-logical well-being
  • Decreased risk of death from cardiovascular disease
  • Improved coping skills during difficulties/stress

In addition, people with hope typically have meaningful long- and short-term goals, along with a flexible plan to achieve those goals and the reinforcement of positive self-talk.

We humans are sometimes too inventive for our own good—we can envision a future course of action along with every potential catastrophe that could occur along the way. Being aware of everything that can go wrong often makes doing nothing—in an attempt to avoid failure or pain—seem like a viable option.

Cultivating hope, on the other hand, helps activate creativity and inventiveness and prompts us to solve the predicaments we face by taking action in spite of our fears.

Hope brings with it the belief that things can get better. Regardless of how dire things may seem, there is potential for a positive outcome.

Is It Possible to Be Too Hopeful?

It could be said that optimists have a healthy dose of hope while “extreme optimists,” suffer from blinding hope. They want nothing to do with bad news.

Researchers at Duke University found that extreme optimists (you could call them “high-hopers”) don’t save money, don’t pay off credit cards and don’t make long-term plans, but they are more likely to remarry if divorced.

Moderation, as usual, is the key. The researchers also found that “moderate optimists” tend to work harder and work longer hours, earn and save more money—and pay off their credit cards.

Being a moderate high-hoper doesn’t mean keeping your head in the sand when it comes to life’s occasional unpleasant circumstances. It just means keeping a positive attitude—believing the best will happen, not the worst.

That helps ensure that when difficult situations do arise, you’re looking for a way to make the best of it.

Studies seem to suggest that being hopeful is a skill that can be learned. So whether you’re an extreme optimist, an extreme pessimist or somewhere in between, there is hope for us all.

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How to Support Your Own Happiness

When you were little and the teacher asked what you wanted to be when you grew up, you surely didn’t answer “miserable!”

At every stage in life, unhappiness is not a state to which we aspire. But with the economy rolling downhill, the vision of our own prosperity can seem like a tiny, inflatable raft in an ocean of fear. In such unstable times, the pursuit of happiness can feel like a taunt rather than an inalienable right.

Still, it’s worth the effort. Emerging research shows that while trauma has a profound impact on the brain, the brain is not as hard-wired as previously thought.  We can learn to be happier.  In fact, the most popular class at Harvard University is one in which students learn to train their brains to cultivate what instructor Tal Ben-Shahar calls the ultimate currency: happiness.

Read the rest of this entry »