Components of Happiness

I have watched a few documentaries, read articles and blogs, soaked up TED talks over the past few weeks and done my best to reflect on experiences which make be more satisfied/happy/content in life. However I tend to lack planning and structure in my efforts to execute on the insights that I might have picked up along the way. One aspect of this resolution to absorb quality content is a realization that I need to take my cognitive enthusiasm and apply it to real life - in the form of action. It is not merely enough to understand - I must do. I also tend to be a little non-linear (unorganized) in my thinking. There are few things as effective as a list of points to help me structure and refine my thinking. I found a website dedicated to the science of happiness and they provided seven clear activities that are common among those who report themselves to be happy. I want to elaborate on each of those as they are a good summary of what I have already learned.
  • meaningful relationships
  • caring for others
  • exercise (aerobic - 3x a week)
  • flow (engaging activities that demand our full attention)
  • spiritual engagement and meaning
  • positive thinking (optimism and gratitude)
  • strength and virtues (discover and apply)
With the exception of the last on the list my month-long experiment (or existing resolutions) has already made me address each of these items. I now want write about each one and think of clear ways I can add to these areas.

Meaningful relationships
    This is a cluttered area of my life. I am an extrovert with a wide circle of friends. I spread myself very thin socially, often giving equal attention to strangers and long-time friends. I often neglect relationships that offer the most growth in favor of what is new. One side effect of my thirty day withdrawal from the opposite sex is that I now have a lot more time for the relationships that matter. As part of this year, I wanted to explicitly focus time on these relationships and work on real, meaningful friendships. The kind that are deep and lasting which can withstand the pressures of time and distance - people I can confide in and grow with. I need to sit down and pick at most a dozen people and make regular plans to see them (lunch, dinner, roadtrips, ect). As part of this, I also need to work on listening more. 
    While I do get a lot from my friendships but I don't always give a lot back (outside of being entertaining and sharing my current passion/energy). I need to deliberately invest more in my friends and make it clear that I appreciate them and want to help them however possible. I need to be supporting of helping them achieve whatever dreams/projects they have. 

Action Items: define circle of close friends and invest in them,  make lunch/happy hour/dinner plans at least once per week, work on listening, incorporate them into my travels/adventure 

Caring for Others
    I just mentioned how I can do this with my friends though I can also do this in other areas. Two years ago, I found a great deal of satisfaction from working with the different city agencies to improve our neighborhood. I also found a similar pleasure in helping to bring our community garden to life. I enjoyed teaching the high school class at the UU last year. Since I started working I have almost exclusively devoted my free time to myself (Netflix, reading, gym ect) and hanging out with friends. Admittedly I struggle with what is a good use of my time (and how to really help people) but I should be helping out if for no other reason than to build more human bonds and to feel a little more gratitude. If that isn't enough motivation I could also use this opportunity to help deal with issues (maybe I have a fear of certain people, or practice listening - I could work with my fear or find activities that help me to deal with my own problems). Generally this is an area I need to work on. I am too self-absorbed. 

Action item: find at least one activity/organization to work with every other week. Also find a few neighbors and friends to help out. Make sure to listen when I am with friends.

Exercise
    I have been pretty good about this the past month. My explicit goal is to simply indulge my vanity and get a nice looking body, but after recent reading it is unmistakably clear there are a host of other benefits including: better sleep, better control of ADHD, clearer thought, lower risk of depression and obviously a healthier body and longer life. The cognitive improvements were the most surprising (these only seem to arise from yoga and aerobic activities though, so I will need to focus a little less on lifting to receive the full benefits) and actually take effect over a very long period (benefits began to plateau after 4 months in the studies I saw). My plan is still to drop ~5-10 lb. of fat while increasing my overall weight from 168 to 180. I hoped to do this in 6 months. Going forward I think I will split my time between lifting, running, yoga and aerobic classes at my gym. This will keep it from getting boring, work different muscle groups. The downside is that it might end up taking a lot longer to achieve my desired weight.  
    Once it warms up I can start running outdoors and also begin cycling to work. I also need to start using my lunch break for aerobic activity (which I don't mind doing solo, unlike lifting which the social aspect of the gym seems to encourage). Lastly, I could try to work out with a few friends and tie it in to point #1.
      NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) is also a very easy way to burn calories. It might be a good thing to do silly activities like resurrect my extinguised bouncy leg habit or chew gum. Over the course of years these small changes make a huge difference. Walking at lunch would also be nice. Biking to work, though often considered exercise would fall under this too.
    I think this section should more appropriately be entitled - take care of your body. Along these lines I will continue my "research" into better sleep, try to wake up earlier, meditate [to reduce stress], avoid alcohol/caffeine [at least with any regularity], and continue to make tweaks to my diet to find what works best (time of day, amount of calories/size of meal [snacks vs. meals], meal composition [protein/carbs/fat], ect)

Action Items: Keep going to gym (classes/lift - aerobic at least 2x/weel), increase weight and define body, workout with friends, bike to work, NEAT activities, get deep sleep, tweak diet [post on this]. 

Flow
    Sadly, I don't have an outlet that gives me this feeling on a regular basis. That is one reason I have been writing so much lately. It has given me a way to devote my full energy and attention to a task. Lately at work, I have been deprived of stimulating activities (though a pending role change will offer a chance for this). Outside of film, I don't have many engrossing hobbies.  I like photography, but have run out of inspiration lately on that front. That could be an issue though, as most of the things I enjoy tend to be warm weather pastimes (cycling, gardening, working on the yard, photography [I like outdoor stuff with natural night]). I haven't thrown pottery in a while. This might be a good seasonal hobby for me to help pass the time in the lonely winter months. It's also a good chance to interact with creative people. Maybe I should consider writing more as I have enjoyed the clarity it brings more and more. I also haven't painted in a while, but this is because I don't have a space that is very inviting or inspiring (I guess I could go to the library or just force myself to do it at the kitchen table and see how it goes). 
    Writing this made me Google "ideas for hobbies,"then "hobbies for ENTPs." Reading the possibilities let me realize I haven't played poker in some time, though I found it to be one of the most engrossing games when I played in college. Maybe I can find a few local pick up games. It was also a good activity for just hanging out with a group of guys which is unfortunately increasingly difficult to do. 
    It was also interesting to see sports listed so many times. It is interesting to compare this idea to the common experience of many athletes who report being "in the zone." Sports do seem like a very good opportunity for completely devoting yourself (both mind and body) to an activity. I know I experience that every time I play flag football. I have always wanted to learn tennis and soccer. There is nothing keeping me from joining a local league. It would also give me a chance to meet other people and having to avoid the monotony of the gym. 

Action Items: Find a poker game, take at least one interesting photo a day, meditate at least once per day (before bed is ideal as it is a good transition to sleep and when I am most often antsy about being alone), continue writing, take my new project/role at work seriously (try to learn rudimentary coding), 

Spiritual Engagement and Meaning
    The interfaith events I have been attending for the past few weeks have been very revealing. They have helped confirm my need to find another community to be a part of. I am growing tired of what I find at the UU (though the people are still wonderful). I also think there is a lot to be learned by simply visiting other religious communities.
  • It's an opportunity to feel like a minority. 
  • It's an opportunity to be a part of a new community
  • It's interesting to see how others go about finding peace (songs, meditation, ect)
  • It's interesting to see how people build community (over meals, coffee, sitting silently together
   I particularly liked the Quaker church. Even the building fit my tastes. It was stripped of all pretense. No pictures, no crosses, no fancy lights. Just plain wooden floors, white walls, lots of natural light and and pews all laid out to face each other in concentric squares. They sit silently and listen for "that still small voice within." It couldn't be farther from the indignant political rhetoric I find in the UU. The people are so calm and unagitated. They even sent the nicest, handwritten card after I visited the other day. Even if I don't find "God" I do think they can teach me a lot. It will be a good new home.

TED talks have also been a vital source of information over the pats few weeks

Action Items: Go to the Quaker church at least twice a month, continue to read Quaker materials, continue to write, continue to challenge my belief structure.

Positive Thinking
    Gratitude is an interesting thing. It has the power to turn problems into opportunity when I direct my full thought at what is really going on. I need to apply my powers of seeing the other side (or simply playing devil's advocate) to finding gratitude in emotional distress.

Just last night I was feeling kind of bored and disillusioned about work. I felt a deep lack of purpose. I remembered my challenge to direct gratitude at problems. Then I realized was that boredom meant that I was not facing any real problems in my life and that this is a perfect opportunity to find clarity, to write, to think, and reflect on what might be nagging at my soul if I paid closer attention.

I think writing is good because it forces you to pause and really be honest and deliberate in manner that doesn't always occur when I have a fleeting thought in an elevator or on the walk to my car. I think I should take the time to put these thoughts into words.

Action Items: Attach at least one good thing to every post. I should also try to think of one person in my life each day I am thankful for and send them a card or at a minimum a text.

Strengths
  I am probably best at finding the minority (or at least under-appreciated) perspective in a given situation. Most people call this Devil's advocate. I call it seeing the complexity and nuance in a situation. This is a good thing when I face entrenched power structures as a newcomer with little support (I have learned to keep my head down and lips sealed until I earn respect) but it is a very good tool when I encounter people in states of hopelessness or those who find themselves in a moment of fatalistic thinking over a given situation. 
 Similarly, I am open to new people and new experiences. In fact, I actively seek them both out. This strength too is also a weakness (as it leads to an unhealthy form of restlessness and an inability to be happy once things are comfortable and settled in - read: jobs, relationships, living situation). However, I have come to realize this makes me a very good resource when I meet people who have recently moved to an area. I am generally able to quickly get them integrated into their new area. 
  More concrete things I am good at: finding really good deals, making the most logical purchase (especially when it involves many variables - think technology), helping people determine what values matter to them when they need to make a particular course of action, being a good salesman for ideas I believe in, bringing people together (though I do a poor job of facilitating exchanges between people once I do).
  Virtues, standing up for people if I think they have been treated unfairly. Making sure all points get heard during a discussion. Coming up with easy and simple (though often very inelegant) solutions that result in the desired outcome (I think this is often called quick and dirty).
  I am having trouble thinking of ways I can apply my strengths. This is not good. Hmmm....

Did some reading. Here is what the MBTI folks had to say my strengths are:


  • The ability to hold many points of view in mind and see their differing merits.
  • Seeing ways to do things others have not thought of.
  • Able to give quick and diverse answers to any question of interest.
  • Seeing the other side of a situation and making it known.
  • Being able to juggle many differing jobs or processes at the one time.
  • Easily capable of holding your own in any argument or discussion.
  • The ability to quickly find the best or most useful side of others.
  • Seeing the many connections between events and things which are not immediately obvious to others.

These all seem difficult to put into action in a practical way. 

More advice:

ENTPs who have developed their Introverted Thinking to the extent that they regularly and carefully interpret the information their Extraverted Intuition brings to them will enjoy these special gifts:

  • The ability to solve puzzles and problems that have no obvious way to resolution.
  • The ability to define schematically a new structure or design and know it will work.
  • Knowing and giving to others the very thing they need when they are not sure themselves.
  • A talent for innovative creation in writing, music or the visual arts.
  • The gift of knowing which new ideas or changes will enhance rather than detract from their relationships with others