The Happiness Connection  

Breaks can be more beneficial than powering through a task

Take a break

Because the end of my week was going to be quite busy, I wanted to get my column written on Wednesday.

I came up with an idea for it, did some research, and then sat down to write. That’s when things got tricky. I must have started my column a dozen different ways, but nothing flowed or seemed to convey the message I wanted to put forward.

I finally gave up and decided I’d go back to it the next morning.

As is often the case when I wait and sit in front of my computer the next day, words and thoughts flowed eagerly through my fingers. It’s a strange phenomenon but taking a break can often be beneficial when you’re trying to complete a task.

This is a very different approach to the one I used to adhere to.

Not that many years ago, I’d force myself to power through a challenge, rather than stepping away from it for a while. I thought I wouldn’t be able to sleep if I didn’t cross the troublesome task off my list.

It turns out the opposite is true. You may be sleeping, vegging or daydreaming, but your brain is still busy. There’s evidence to show that during these times, your brain reviews what it has learned or worked on and then ingrains it into your mind.

When I was learning to play tennis, a shot I struggled with during one lesson was suddenly possible the next time I stepped onto the court. Without realizing it, my mind had continued to work on the skill. It reviewed and processed without me even realizing it was happening.

This illustrates why I often tell myself and others to sleep on tough decisions or to come back to a challenging task the next day. It’s valuable advice that’s helped me countless times over the years.

Instead of refusing to stop, I now listen to my brain and my body. If they’re telling me they’re tired, I pay attention. You don’t have to wait until you’ve hit a wall before you give yourself a break.

Psychologists have found many benefits from building regular pauses into your day. These include improving your mood and performance. There’s even some evidence that suggests morning breaks are more valuable than afternoon ones.

The human brain isn’t designed to focus on one task for long periods of time.

Our ancient ancestors would have been in trouble if they only watched for predators approaching from one direction. Their survival depended on being able to concentrate on a wide variety of things simultaneously.

So, what should we do when you’re required to concentrate on something for a prolonged period? Take a break from time to time.

In a study from George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, university students were given a test that required them to monitor maps of railway lines on a screen. The task involved staying focused for the length of the exam. Half of the students were given a five-minute break halfway through. Then the subjects were randomly assigned an activity to perform.

They were asked to:

• Sit quietly

• Listen to music

• Watch a music video

• Choose between listening to music or watching a music video

• Do an activity of their choice, as long as they didn’t leave the room.

The results showed it didn’t matter how they spent their five-minutes, all the students in the break group performed better than the ones who hadn’t been given this opportunity.

Taking a break can be a struggle for some people. There’s a common belief that working through your lunch or powering through your day, regardless of how tired you are, means you’ll get more done. This is unlikely to be true.

Instead, you’ll probably feel exhausted, frustrated, and actually get less accomplished.

The next time you feel your energy and concentration dip, try taking a different approach. Instead of hunkering down and pushing harder to get the job done, take a break. It doesn’t have to be a long one, although length, frequency and duration all vary from person to person.

Try doing something different to the task you’re taking a pause from. If you’re working alone, have a five-minute conversation with a colleague. If it’s a team project, sit quietly listening to music.

Taking a break from your taxes, to work on somebody else’s, is unlikely to give you the rejuvenation you’re looking for.

Taking a break is never a waste of time. Not only will it restore your energy in the short-term, but it can also help prevent burnout further down the road.

Maybe it’s time to be more like a Kit Kat and have a break.

Life can be like a game of Snakes and Ladders

Snakes and Ladders life

As Forrest Gump famously said: “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.”

Personally, I like to think of life as a game of Snakes and Ladders. This is something I remember playing when I was young. It’s a very simple game. You throw dice to see how many squares to move your marker. If you land on the head of a snake, you slide down to wherever the end of the tail is. If you find yourself at the bottom of a ladder, you get to climb up. Because the winner is the person who gets to the end first, the snakes are seen as bad and the ladders as good.

As you move through life, you never know if you’ll find yourself moving in what feels like a backward direction or be presented with an opportunity to move ahead more quickly than you anticipated.

When my Dad died in March, I landed on a snake of sorts. It felt like I’d been propelled backwards as I suddenly had to readjust my life to deal with this change in circumstance. It didn’t stop me; it just changed the course I was on and meant I had to put some aspects of my life on hold.

Two weeks before Christmas, I stepped onto the head of another slippery snake and found myself transported to an unforeseen, and in many ways unwelcome, location. This time it was the result of my mom’s death.

It wasn’t unexpected as she was in her nineties, but it was definitely a surprise. She’d been feeling a little under the weather but not sick. She died peacefully in her sleep, 40 weeks to the day after my dad passed.

This is the reason I haven’t been writing The Happiness Connection for the past five weeks. I decided the kindest thing I could do for myself was to enjoy every minute I had with my children and take some space for me.

I know I’m not the only person who experienced life’s version of stepping on the head of a long twisty serpent during the holiday period. There are lots of ways to suddenly find yourself somewhere you hadn’t expected—and don’t want to be. It’s a natural part of life.

I thought I’d share some of the things I’m reminding myself about in life’s game of Snakes and Ladders in case you need to hear them, too.

• Don’t spend time trying to avoid the snakes, you can’t. Regardless of how careful you are, they will show up when you least expect it. Accept them as part of your experience. They have a lot to teach you and can help you learn to live in the moment.

• Trust that there are not only snakes for you to slide down, but there are also ladders that will give you a leg-up when you need it. In my experience, these often appear in the shape of people who are generous with their time, support, and expertise.

• Be grateful when you find yourself at the bottom of a ladder. Have the courage to climb up, trusting that you’ll be able to deal with whatever you find at the top.

• Live one day at a time. Don’t let your mind go to the land of what if’s or feel overwhelmed by looking at everything you have to accomplish, at one time.

• Breath slowly and deeply and be kind to yourself. Take the time you need to maintain your physical and mental health.

It’s impossible to avoid challenges and loss in life. Some people have less of it to deal with than others, but it’s part of the human life cycle. You can’t avoid the snakes and there will always be ladders if you look for them.

Above all, rather than wishing things were different, do your best to enjoy what is.

What does happiness and success mean to you?

Are you happy?

Do you ever stop to wonder whether you’re making a success of your life? It’s a question that often drifts into my mind as I move through December.

I left my marriage of 30 years. I’m not wealthy. I don’t have a book on the New York Times bestseller’s list and people aren’t lining up to hire me to speak for crazy amounts of money. But I adore my home and I have lots of friends and family members who I love.

I wake up every morning wondering what amazing things are going to happen, and I know I am responsible for my own life and happiness. The buck stops with me.

This is about as far as I could get from the life my mom has lived. She was married to my dad for 67 years when he passed away. They had many difficult times and honestly weren’t a very good fit for life partners. But they stuck it out and were financially more than comfortable.

So, who’s had a greater level of success, my mom or me?

Normally, I don’t encourage comparing yourself to anyone else because unless you’re living in their skin, you don’t have a full picture of what’s going on. But in this case, I have a point I’m trying to illustrate.

I chose to leave my marriage not because my husband was awful or we hated each other, but because I wanted more than I seemed able to achieve staying married. I wanted to experience a greater level of happiness and a closer connection with another person.

When I stepped back into single life, it was hard to hear people gasp when they realized how long my parents had been married. Yes, it’s an amazing achievement, but for the most part those decades weren’t full of happiness. So, was it really the astounding news that people assumed it was?

I love my life and I suspect that for most of her 92 years, my mother has tolerated hers. She felt safe and appearances were more important than empowerment and risk. We each made our choice, for our own reasons. It’s not up to anyone but ourselves to judge our decisions.

I believe I’m incredibly successful because I’m happy. Surely this is the stick we should be using to measure success, rather than bank accounts, luxury cars and how much stuff you have.

If having money and possessions really makes you happy, then that’s what success looks like for you. If creativity, freedom and connection are your jam, that’s how you should measure your achievements.

But don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have to have large amounts of money to be happy.

I think in a strange way the pandemic has helped us realize that more and more. Connection, continual learning and an optimistic attitude contribute far more to your level of happiness than money does.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with having a strong financial base, as long as you don’t sacrifice your happiness to achieve it. Being passionate about your work often brings money as a resulting bonus.

Today, when I asked myself if I was successful, I didn’t even pause to consider my answer. I love my life. I’m very happy. I’m successful in the areas that count most to me.

I encourage you to reassess your own feelings about success. Start by determining whether you’re happy. Don’t be too hasty about answering that question. Take your time. Happiness doesn’t mean your life is perfect. It’s about choosing to have a positive attitude and a hunger for learning about yourself and the world around you. It’s about doing things that bring you joy and a feeling of self-empowered.

If you aren’t happy, start by taking one small step towards rectifying that. Do one thing that makes you feel more content about yourself and your life.

Remember, every journey starts with a single stride.


Finding happiness in stressful times is possible

Happiness in stressful times

I’m sitting in front of my computer, shaking my head.

British Columbia must be setting some kind of record for the greatest number of bizarre, weather-related incidences in a calendar year. Just when I thought we’d seen everything, Dec. 1 arrived with record breaking warmth.

Normally, this would be interpreted as good news but not when you think of the effect it might bring with it. Melting snow is going to add to the already overwhelmed rivers and creeks, not to mention increasing the risk of avalanches.

Will the strangeness of 2021 end in a few weeks, or carry on through 2022? The answer is unknown. Humans have a need for both certainty and uncertainty. Too much or too little of either can detract from our feelings of happiness.

If you’re certain about what’s around every corner, life can become predictable and boring. If you’ve got no idea what to expect, you may feel insecure or unsafe. In a perfect world, everyone would have just the right balance between those two things. A sufficient amount of newness to keep things interesting, and routine to help you feel secure.

If you’re like me, your Christmas plans may include travel for yourself or family members. You may be feeling a little anxious. What if they can’t come? What if I can’t leave? Is this holiday going to be as bad as last year? If you’re caught up in this type of situation, your level of uncertainty maybe be spinning out of control, causing you to feel more emotional pain than usual.

Emotional suffering tends to be fuelled by thoughts of past regrets and anxiety about the future.

If you want to be happy, even though you have no idea whether your Christmas plans are going to come to fruition or not, pull yourself out of the past and back from the future.

Here are 10 tips to help you do that.

• Shift your attention—When you notice yourself getting caught up in regret or worry, consciously choose to ground yourself back into the present. Concentrate on your breathing. Notice details of your surroundings. Take a drink of your coffee, tea or water and notice the sensations on your lips, tongue, mouth and throat.

• Do something you can control—You can’t control the weather, the pandemic or choices that other people make. Stop wishing you could. Instead, do something you can control. Clean the bathrooms, write your Christmas cards or get some exercise. This will help boost your feelings of certainty and help balance you out.

• Don’t believe everything you think—Just because a thought goes through your head, doesn’t mean it’s accurate or even true. Your brain is a complex organ that’s designed to protect you. Sometimes it falls into ancient programming that doesn’t serve your modern environment.

• Challenge certainty/uncertainty—Just because it isn’t what you’d planned or happens unexpectedly, that doesn’t make it bad. Spend time looking for the silver lining in worse-case scenarios. Remind yourself of times when you were resilient in the face of challenge. My mom and I have been laughing at an imagined situation where both supply routes and traveling is cut off. We picture the two of us on Christmas Day with nothing but the 22-pound turkey I’ve ordered from a local supplier. Humour is rarely a bad thing.

• Manage stress and anxiety—Don’t let your healthy living practices fall by the wayside. Get plenty of sleep and exercise. Eat nourishing food. Find time to relax or meditate.

• Practice acceptance—Don’t bury your feelings or pretend none of this chaos is happening. Instead, meet your life where it is, not where you think it should be. Move forward from there.

• Find healthy ways to comfort yourself—Rather than reaching for the ice cream, an extra-large glass of wine or an entire evening on social media, go for a walk, connect with a friend or take a long soothing bubble bath.

• Step out of victim energy—The best person to rescue you from this situation is you. Don’t fall into the hole of thinking you’re at the mercy of the world around you. You may not be able to travel. Your family may not be able to join you. But you get to choose the perspective you want to use to view the ups and downs of life.

• Practice self-care—As I say regularly, self-care is not selfish. This refers to investing in yourself physically, mentally and emotionally. If you’re tired, get more rest. If you’re bored, find something new to do. If you’re lonely, connect with loved ones or strangers. Any type of connection can boost your sense of wellbeing.

• Find meaning in the chaos—Rather than just waiting for this whole mess to be over, make the most of your situation. Choose to see this time as different but not necessarily bad.

What lessons and opportunities are presenting themselves? Is there anything you can do to help others who may be struggling even more than you are?

Happy people don’t feel that way because their lives are perfect—they feel satisfaction from living the best life possible, given the situation they find themselves in.

It’s not what happens that makes you happy but how you react to it.

More The Happiness Connection articles

About the Author

Reen Rose is an experienced, informative, and engaging speaker, author, and educator. She has worked for over three decades in the world of education, teaching children and adults in Canada and England.

Research shows that happy people are better leaders, more successful, and healthier than their unhappy counterparts, and yet so many people still believe that happiness is a result of their circumstances.

Happiness is a choice. Reen’s presentations and workshops are designed to help you become robustly happy. This is her term for happiness that can withstand challenge and change.

Reen blends research-based expertise, storytelling, humour, and practical strategies to both inform and inspire. She is a Myers Briggs certified practitioner, a Microsoft Office certified trainer and a qualified and experienced teacher.

Email Reen at [email protected]

Check out her websites at www.ReenRose.com, or www.ModellingHappiness.com

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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