So much of today’s conversations are around the pursuit of happiness. It seems to be intangible but important to most of us. If we take a step back and ask ourselves one root question we can begin a journey filled with happiness. What is one thing we can do to increase our happiness that also helps us be more healthy? The answer: Giving with care. We at Unified Caring Association (UCA) love to share research, ideas and inspiration on how we can harness giving to help promote happiness in our lives and the lives of others.
Giving with Care Helps Us Feel Happy
UCA has many ways to share caring near and far, with ourselves, and those we hold close to our hearts. Some of these are in the forms of gifts, resources and tools, and the gift of time. All of these options help us feel happy. It is our joy to hear that there have been numerous studies on this very subject. These studies conclude that giving to others actually helps promote happiness. “Happiness expert Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, saw similar results [in comparison to her colleges] when she asked people to perform five acts of kindness each week for six weeks.These good feelings are reflected in our biology.” (https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/5_ways_giving_is_good_for_you) What else is great is that happiness can be increased by acts of caring and kindness. For example, the giving and receiving of Swedish massages reducing anxiety, depression, and stress hormones.
There are many studies out there on happiness and many are very informative on the impact of caring acts. One such study was done by researchers from the University of Zurich in Switzerland. In this study the researchers wanted to see if there is a difference of happiness levels in the brain between just saying that you will give verses actually giving. “(They) told 50 people they’d be receiving about $100 over a few weeks. Half of the people were asked to commit to spending that money on themselves, and half were asked to spend it on someone they knew.” (https://time.com/collection/guide-to-happiness/4857777/generosity-happiness-brain/) What is interesting is that the researchers began the study by asking each participant to think about someone they would like to give a gift to and place a monetary value on that generosity. Then they scanned the brains of the participants with an MRI machine to measure the activity levels of areas in the brain that are associated with social behavior, decision-making, generosity and happiness. “Their choices—and their brain activity—seemed to depend on how they had pledged to spend the money earlier. Those who had agreed to spend money on other people tended to make more generous decisions throughout the experiment, compared to those who had agreed to spend on themselves.” (https://time.com/collection/guide-to-happiness/4857777/generosity-happiness-brain/) Ultimately, it didn’t matter how much the participants spent on others. The results showed that giving helped with increased feelings of happiness. We are happy to read that the participants in this study reported higher levels of happiness upon completion of the experiment. There was an additional surprise for the researchers during these scans. The participants also had more interaction between altruism and happiness!
Altruism, tell me more please?
Altruism is when we put the needs of others before those of our own. Some examples are holding the door open for someone entering or leaving at the same time as you, offering your bus seat to a senior, or our favorite is offering to pick up coffee our colleagues. These care-giving acts have positive effects upon our mental wellbeing and helps reduce stress.
If we feel happier, then we tend to be healthier too! In his book Why Good Things Happen to Good People, Stephen Post, a professor of preventive medicine at Stony Brook University, reports that giving to others has been shown to increase health benefits in people with chronic illness, including HIV and multiple sclerosis. (https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/5_ways_giving_is_good_for_you) This evidence is backed up by a 1999 study led by Doug Oman of UC Berkeley in California. He found that of the seniors who volunteered for multiple organizations were almost 50% less likely to die than non-volunteers. “Stephanie Brown of the University of Michigan saw similar results in a 2003 study on elderly couples. She and her colleagues found that those individuals who provided practical help to friends, relatives or neighbors, or gave emotional support to their spouses, had a lower risk of dying over a five-year period than those who didn’t.” (https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/5_ways_giving_is_good_for_you) Why is this connection between giving and happiness so strong? Most of the research published on the web shows that when people give and volunteer, it activates areas of the brain connected with pleasure, trust and social connection. We often feel this as a warm glow or what is often referred to as the ‘helper’s high.’
Ideas on Ways to Give
Giving with care is a great way to promote happiness in our lives and those we encounter. Now the question comes into play, how do we pick one or more ways to give? Do we start big or small? With those we know, or with someone we pass on the street? The truth is that we can start giving in so many ways. Since there are so many ways to give, we at UCA want to list some ideas.
Happiness comes in so many forms. Giving is a great and easy start. We have big smiles at UCA when ever we have a chance to give with care. We are happy to be able to share this blog with our readers and members. Thank you for the gift of your time while reading this blog.
Unified Caring Association is constantly striving to help create a more caring world. We love sharing more caring information on our website and through blogs that share caring in our community, activities, and reviews. We also send out caring posts on our social media accounts (Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Twitter) to give inspiration throughout the week.
getting better care about
There are many things as aspects of our lives that we care about: caring for our family, our performance at work, or even our physical fitness and health. But we can often find ourselves with little desire or in a struggle to improve. There are many ways we can strive to be better at what we care about. One of the best ways to begin a self-care or self-improvement journey is with mind, then follow with action.
Growth mindset is an idea where a person can adopt a practice where their most basic abilities can be continually developed through dedication and hard work. Brains and talents are just a starting point, continually learning and growing is the ‘maintenance’ so to speak. This perspective often fosters resilience and a love of learning which can lead to success. This means that the brain is always growing, building new neural pathways, more resilient, as well as getting stronger.
A Tale of Two Zones…
In his TedTalk Eduardo Briceño breaks down how to get better at what we care about. He begins talking about two zones that we must go through to get better at one or more skills. The first phase, the learning zone is the desire for improvement and is where the growth mindset lies. To do this “… we do activities designed for improvement, concentrating on what we haven’t mastered yet, which means we have to expect to make mistakes, knowing that we will learn from them.” (https://www.ted.com/talks/eduardo_briceno_how_to_get_better_at_the_things_you_care_about)This is in contrast to the second zone called the performance zone. The performance zone is where we execute our task, exercise our skills, “…do something as best as we can…[and] concentrate on what we have already mastered and we try to minimize mistakes.” (https://www.ted.com/talks/eduardo_briceno_how_to_get_better_at_the_things_you_care_about) Briceño mentions that often those who are perceived as highly effect and successful deliberately set the intention to alternate between these two zones. The goal for getting better at what we care about is to be clear about what we want in each of these two zones: learning and growth followed by the maximum benefit and success during implementation. Rinse and repeat.
Seems simple, right? The struggle is that many of us don’t improve even if we work really hard. According to Briceño this is because most societies have the mindset that we must stay in the ‘performance zone.” We can see this in many companies where results are the way to be successful, or in classrooms where getting the ‘A’ or ‘100%’ is all that seems to matter. We seem to be missing the learning and experience of failure that makes it possible to get better at what we care about; “…this hinders our growth, and ironically, over the long term, also our performance.” (https://www.ted.com/talks/eduardo_briceno_how_to_get_better_at_the_things_you_care_about) The learning zone consists of what “…Dr. Anders Ericsson calls deliberate practice. This involves breaking down abilities into component skills, being clear about what subskill we’re working to improve, …giving full concentration to a high level of challenge outside our comfort zone, just beyond what we can currently do, using frequent feedback with repetition and adjustments, and ideally engaging the guidance of a skilled coach, because activities designed for improvement are domain-specific, and great teachers and coaches know what those activities are and can also give us expert feedback. It is this type of practice in the learning zone which leads to substantial improvement, not just time on task performing.” (https://www.ted.com/talks/eduardo_briceno_how_to_get_better_at_the_things_you_care_about)
Often we see a trend of our abilities plateauing during our first five years of an activity. This happens when we think and feel we have become ‘good enough’ and stop spending time in the first zone — the learning zone. We move on to the second zone — the performance zone — where we often remain. While in this second zone we are just doing to get things done as best as we can. If we are practicing mindfulness and taking notes (literally or mentally) we can then go back to the first zone and work on learning and strengthening in the areas that did not work out as well as we had hoped during the performance zone.
To set ourselves up for success we need to do four things according to Briceño: 1) adopt a growth mindset, 2) want to improve a specific skill, 3) have an idea or plan on how to improve said skill, and 4) “…we must be in a low-stakes situation, because if mistakes are to be expected, then the consequence of making them must not be catastrophic, or even very significant. “ (https://www.ted.com/talks/eduardo_briceno_how_to_get_better_at_the_things_you_care_about) If we are able to keep the stress and stakes low for a good amount of the time, we can develop an environment that allows for nurturing a growth mindset. A good take-away from the two zones and how they interact to help us get better at what we care about is to think about it like washing your hair: wash-rinse-repeat. (Click here to watch the full TedTalk video.)
Ok so we have a good idea about growth mindset and how to continue getting better at what we care about. But what is actually happening with the brain? The key is in how our brain has been evolving from the purely animalistic, instinctive and reactionary wiring that focuses mostly on survival even if our nobel goal is to emphasize the positive and intentional things today. How the brain remembers negative experiences is often through the body producing cortisol during a stressful event. (That T-Rex ate Bob, it was scary, and I remember that! I also remember my friend Bob. He was a cool dude.) “The bad feeling of cortisol has its own survival purpose. It alerts you to an obstacle on the path to meeting your needs so you can navigate your way to good feelings. But once you do that, your brain finds the next obstacle. You will feel bad a lot if you follow your survival brain wherever it leads.” (https://www.forbes.com/sites/womensmedia/2016/12/21/how-to-train-your-brain-to-go-positive-instead-of-negative/#66ccd9005a58) Fast forward to 2020 and we have a brain that is tuned into looking out for obstacles, and has become very skilled in remembering negative experiences.
It probably takes about three times repeating most positive experiences to make as deep of an impression in the mind as one negative experience. This is based on practices for building self-esteem and self-confidence such as through pep talks like repeating positive sayings to yourself multiple times while looking in the mirror. Doing this will ingrain a pathway and memory in the mind based on positivity, effectively training your brain to look for the positives and not the negatives. A suggestion is to “…spend one minute looking for positives, three times a day for forty five days…Any positives, no matter how small, will build the pathway that seeks and expects positives.” (https://www.forbes.com/sites/womensmedia/2016/12/21/how-to-train-your-brain-to-go-positive-instead-of-negative/#66ccd9005a58) This will create a healthy habit, and promote the development of a healthy brain.
…And Heart Happenings
Having healthy and learning minds helps us cultivate strong emotional bonds with others and ourselves. It feels good to be successful in endeavors we care about. Previous blogs we have written talk a lot about how positive feelings are good for our us, such as Caring Through the Gift of Time and Volunteering for Health. We see this when we achieve a goal — we and those who support us often are smiling. We feel the positivity. When a positive outlook is adopted a higher frequency of success is achieved. This in turn creates a positive circuit the feeds itself, and generates more connections during our learning time. An example of this is the saying ‘you’re on fire!’ when someone is just having successful achievement after successful achievement. The excitement is palpable and the momentum is fast.
From what we have been reading and blogging about, this is the ongoing goal of a growth mindset. Most of the time we are happy when we are learning and growing. And one thing is for certain: change is inevitable. This means that it is important to continue to get better at what we care about.
At Unified Caring Association (UCA), we value taking care of each other. But where does this all start? We once blogged about how “It All Starts With Self-Care.” And UCA members have access to many tools that help with just this! One of these tools is the Self-Care Assessment! This is an easy, quick assessment that you take at any time anywhere as often as you want to check in with how you are doing.
What to expect while taking this assessment?
After making sure you have 5-10 minutes of uninterrupted time, you will see five charts that cover the key areas to score yourself on self-care: Body, Mind, Emotion, Work, Social/Family. Each of the sections has five questions that you rate your own activity levels from 1 to 5, one being “it never occured to me” and five being “frequently.” Just like the example from the body section of the assessment below.
Once you have your ‘score’ you can see the areas that would help you improve your self-care, starting you on a path to self-care success!
The next section asks you to “choose the 3 most important statements to improve right now. What is you plan to improve each?” And finally a spot to name a friend, family member, or someone you trust to be your accountability partner. This allows for a well formed plan of action to assist in holding you responsible for your self-care plan.
Should the assessment be retaken?
Yes is the simplest answer. Because we are always growing, changing and life around us is ever shifting, this assessment can apply at most times of our lives. We recently were told about a member’s journey. This member had an initial low score, then retook her assessment two months later, and had a score that was 4x times better! The main thing to remember is to continue to move forward with your self-care, even if there are areas that you are taking baby-steps in. Once we heard a saying, “Progress, not perfection.” This is so true for self-care. The goal is the progress in improving and maintaining your self-care.
Will I struggle?
There are many times we struggle with our goals. This is why there is plan and someone your trust to help hold you accountable. UCA also has tools to help! Unified Caring Association has Nutrition and Fitness tools, Meditation and Mindfulness recordings and videos, as well as a 24 hour counseling hotline!
Results will show as you grow!
As you continue on your self-care journey you will begin to see results. The consistency in practicing your personal well-being plan will yield results that grow just like when we nurture a seed.
We are excited to see and hear about our UCA members success. We are happy to be able to provide tools and resources like the self assessment to do so! If you would like to read more blogs on caring action, caring the UCA way, or about UCA we have more information available. Also, we can be found on Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter for a bit of caring sprinkled in your day!
Achieve a better quality of life by focusing on wellness.