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Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Practicing Happiness Workbook (recommended book)

“If you fit any of the following descriptions, this book is intended for you:
  • You feel there’s too much stress in your life.
  • You’re troubled by worries, fears, and anxiety.
  • You do things you regret, like overeating, losing your temper, or watching too much TV.
  • You wish you could find more meaning and satisfaction in life.”

First, Dr. Ruth Baer explains the four most common “Psychological Traps,” or unhelpful ways of thinking about and dealing with problems.

Rumination: “Negative, repetitive, prolonged, unhelpful thinking…It’s different from constructive thinking because it doesn’t solve problems—it makes matters worse.”

Avoidance: “Deliberately trying not to think about something… often backfires and makes the thoughts more frequent. The same thing happens with unwanted emotions and urges. The more we try to avoid or suppress them, the stronger they become.”

Emotion-Driven Behavior: “To escape from uncomfortable feelings, we act suddenly, without considering the long-term effects. Later, we wish we’d handled the situation differently.”

Self-Criticism: “Harsh self-criticism… interferes with the ability to improve… [and] keeps us from accepting parts of ourselves that can’t be changed or that are fine the way they are.”

Then she presents a series of Mindfulness Skills we can practice in order to give greater meaning and purpose to our lives, enjoy positive situations more fully, and effectively cope with unpleasant situations.

Values and Goals: There are exercises to “identify our values and goals, persist when pursuing them is unpleasant or even painful, and appreciate the journey.” This includes Clarifying Your Values, Describing Your Values, and Assessing How Values Consistent Your Behavior Is.

Mindful Observation means “letting go of judgments and criticism as best we can, and staying present with whatever we observe” through exercises like Mindful Observation of Sounds, Observing Judgments in Daily Life, and Watching Out for Judgments of Judgments.

Acting with Awareness “allows us to make wise decisions in difficult situations [and] helps us appreciate life’s small but precious moments.” Exercises include Awareness of Multitasking and Mindful Eating.

Acceptance and Willingness: “In Western society, we’re trained to believe that feeling bad is unnecessary and that we should be able to avoid it if we use the right strategies… If we accept the reality that we’re going to feel awkward, uncomfortable, or tense, and allow these feelings to come and go while focusing on our goals, we’ll be more willing to do the things that matter most.” Exercises include Body Scan and Mindful Pausing.

Self-Compassion “does not include ignoring our mistakes or weaknesses or giving ourselves false praise.” It does include “constructive, persistent efforts to change behaviors or correct mistakes that are causing harm.” Exercises include Savoring, Self-Soothing, and Self-Validation.

For each section of the book, Dr. Baer includes real-life stories of people working with the exercises. This is particularly useful for those of us who practice individually and might not have a chance to discuss our experiences with others.  For example, in the Mindful Eating section, she shares the perspectives of students who chose to mindfully eat a burrito, vending machine cookies, and a dirt(!)-flavored jelly bean.

The workbook is based on the leading research-based mindfulness techniques, including Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). This means that the emphasis is not only on stress reduction but also on finding meaning and satisfaction in life through behaving in ways that are consistent with our deepest values.

With permission from New Harbinger Publications, here's a sample activity: One-Word Labeling of Thoughts, Emotions, Sensations, and Urges


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