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It’s now been a year since the COVID crisis. Many of us, myself included, have endured a year of isolation, grief, and loss from the pandemic. So, it’s normal to feel a sense of exhaustion and fatigue. But with the arrival of spring and a renewed sense of hope on the horizon from more of us getting vaccinated, is it safe for us to start feeling happy and optimistic? Yes, it is!

In this timely New York Times piece that I was recently interviewed for and mentioned in, it’s OK to feel joy right now. As the article rightfully states:

“Spring is the season of optimism. With it comes more natural light and warm weather, both great mood boosters, and some of our most hopeful religious holidays: Easter, Passover, the Hindu festival of Holi and Nowruz, the Persian new year that celebrates springtime and renewal.” It’s precisely why more of us are really feeling genuinely joyous — it’s what your brain wants right now.

Enjoy learning more in the article It’s OK to Feel Joy Right Now.

Dr. Jay Kumar “Your Happiness Professor”
FB/IG/TW @docjaykumar
Author, Science of a Happy Brain
Instructor, “Investing in Happiness” (GenConnectU online course)

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Merry Xmas & Happy Holidays, FB Friends!
With many of us experiencing grief & loss this Holiday Season, here’s my personal message of hope and inspiration to you all.

Wishing you all a Happy & Safe Holidays. Seasons Greetings,
Stay Safe. Stay Strong. Stay Calm. Stay Connected.

Dr. Jay Kumar”Your Happiness Professor”
FB/IG/TW @docjaykumar
Author, Science of a Happy Brain
Instructor, “Investing in Happiness” (GenConnectU online course)

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As we celebrate the Thanksgiving holidays, I’d like to share a personal mantra with you that I find to be true: In order to enjoy a future of abundance and happiness, you need to express gratitude for what you have in the present. 

For many of us, Thanksgiving this year may be different than previous ones. If for any reason you find yourself unable to celebrate the holiday enjoying the traditional feast with loved ones this year—or even if you’re struggling to make ends meet—it’s okay to feel frustrated, sad, or scared.

But, what if for this year’s Thanksgiving, we can learn to turn our anxiety into awareness?

As I reveal in my popular LinkedIn Learning course “How to Train Your Brain for Happiness”, happiness isn’t a promise; it’s a practice! One proven and practical tool for achieving physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being is to practice gratitude.

As the word “Thanksgiving” implies, the significance of this holiday is to give thanks for what we have. It’s about expressing the proverbial “attitude of gratitude”—an idea advanced by timeless spiritual wisdom and recently affirmed by science.

The Science Behind Gratitude

So, how exactly does gratitude make us happy and healthy? How can learning to give thanks be key for our well-being?

Research now recognizes how gratitude is one of the most powerful and healthiest of human emotions. Studies at University of Miami, UC Davis, and other universities successfully demonstrate that remembering to be grateful for what we have in life can greatly outweigh any sadness, stress or challenges we might currently experience. In fact, new studies into the brain show that gratitude is one of the easiest and healthiest ways to experience overall well-being.

A 2009 study by the National Institutes of Health observed that brain scans of participants who expressed the emotion of gratitude—versus those in the control group that did not—experienced more activity in the brain’s hypothalamus. An active hypothalamus is helpful since it regulates sleep, digestion, and metabolism. More importantly, the study concluded that people who regularly express gratitude are less susceptible to anxiety and stress.

Here’s another way of looking at it. Despite the circumstances that life throws to us, when we express gratitude it’s as if our brain steps on the “emotional brakes” on the negative thoughts that bombard our mind. Suddenly, the emotions of sadness, self-pity or stress—that were driving us into anxiety or overwhelm—are slowed and enable us to cope with stressful situations and be more resilient in the face of adversity.

By reminding yourself of all that you’re grateful for in life, it does something remarkable for your brain—it tricks it into focusing on the positive, and dwelling less on the negative.

Make Gratitude Contagious

Gratitude also has a powerful social benefit. It helps us to feel more connected to others. Just saying the simple words “thank you” can lift us out of our own individual concerns and serve to remind us of the joy and happiness that others bring to in our life. Expressing gratitude not only benefits the recipient of our appreciation, but oneself.

A second reason to pause and express gratitude is that even simple expressions of gratitude can have long-lasting effects on those who receive them. When people feel valued, they are more likely to help others.

Just as we lift weights to build muscle, brain science affirms that our brain is a muscle that can be trained and developed. As we cultivate gratitude, we automatically experience greater enthusiasm and contentment.

Try it out for yourself. Say “thank you” to five different people every day for five consecutive days. Embody a genuine feeling of gratitude as you do so, perhaps even offering a smile to that person. After the fifth day notice how you feel. Chances are, you’ll experience a remarkable boost of inner happiness.

Start a Gratitude Practice

What’s one thing you’re grateful for that happened to you today?

In my book “Science of a Happy Brain” I share many exercise for achieving happiness. Here’s one simple and easy-to-use gratitude tool that you can incorporate into your daily life and even start this Thanksgiving.

  • Jot down on a sticky note three to five things for which you are grateful.
  • Notice if there are any you take for granted.
  • Write two or three more post-it notes with the same or different items and place each one someplace where they are visible throughout your day. The more places the better.

This Thanksgiving I personally give thanks to my health and well-being during this pandemic. Having a loving family and steadfast friends is a continuous source of my gratitude.

Lastly, I’m so blessed and grateful to each of YOU for granting me the wonderful opportunity to be in service and make a difference in the world.

Wishing you and your loved ones a healthy, safe, and wonderful Thanksgiving!

Dr. Jay

“Your Happiness Professor”
FB/IG/TW @docjaykumar
Author, Science of a Happy Brain
Instructor, “How to Train Your Brain for Happiness” (LinkedIn Learning online course)

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If you’re feeling stressed over the upcoming election or anxiously awaiting official results, you’re not alone!

Nearly 70% of Americans report feeling apprehensive and concern over the 2020 presidential election. That’s up from 52% in 2016! There’s now even a term for it — Election Stress Disorder (ESD). Why are so many of us suffering from ESD?

As my Chapman University colleague, Dean Gail Stearns, rightfully states, “That anxiety you’re feeling right now — it’s not your fault.” 

To help you navigate ESD over the next few days — and weeks — please enjoy the video and resources below to help you cope with election anxiety.


TEN TIPS FOR COPING WITH ELECTION ANXIETY

  1. Acknowledge your fears, anxieties and concerns. Your emotions are real, so honor what you feel. Write them in your journal. Share them with others. Invite creativity. Discover, imagine, engage your hopes and fears, the beauty and ugliness of our world. Write, read, paint, sing, dance, soar.
  2. Take a breather Breathe. Breathe. Breathe some more. Take time in your day—at any moment—to take five to ten, slow, deep breaths. Science now affirms that doing so will regulate your body’s “stress-response” system and boost your “relaxation-response” system to feel calm and centered.
  3. Be adaptive, not reactive to change If your outside world feels “out of control,” focus on your inner world. The concept of “neuroplasticity” reveals how you have the ability to rewire and retrain the brain to be more adaptive to change. Focus on what you can manage. Let go of what you can’t. Activities—such as meditation, practicing gratitude, or mindful breathing—empower you to be less reactive to change and uncertainty.

Read all the Ten Tips here…

Stay Safe. Stay Strong. Stay Calm. Stay Connected.

Dr. Jay Kumar”Your Happiness Professor”
FB/IG/TW @docjaykumar
Author, Science of a Happy Brain
Instructor, “Investing in Happiness” (GenConnectU online course)

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As Americans celebrate the Fourth of July, this year—more so than in the past—I can’t help but reflect on the significance behind this national holiday.

I’m reminded of the famous motto that is the backbone of American democracy: “United we stand; divided we fall.”

Yet, in a summer of unfolding and simultaneous crises, it may seem as if we’re more divided than ever.

As I reveal in my latest book Science of a Happy Brain, we humans are intensely social beings that evolved for community, compassion, and cooperation.

It is precisely why in moments of turmoil and crisis that we realize how interconnected and interdependent we truly are.

As challenging and chaotic these times justifiably feel, I believe that we are in a seminal point in our collective history.

There exists a precious opportunity to unite and to heal.

This Fourth of July, let’s celebrate more than just with food, festivities, and fireworks.

Let’s honor America’s ideals of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” by remembering that there is far more that unites us than divides us.

While the Fourth of July is traditionally known as America’s “Independence Day”, this year let’s all choose to celebrate the holiday as our Inter-Dependence Day.

Together we thrive! United we heal!

Enjoy my debut article in Elephant Journal
“A Powerful Truth to Remember This Fourth of July”

Stay Safe. Stay Strong. Stay Calm. Stay Connected.

Dr. Jay
Your Happiness Professor
Author, Science of a Happy Brain
Online Course: “Investing in Happiness”
Follow me @docjaykumar (FB, IG, LI, TW)

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“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” Rumi

If You’re Hurting, You’re Not Alone

Like many of us right now, my heart feels heavy. My soul hurts.

While navigating through the array of conflicting emotions over the past few days, I observed an interesting pattern in many of my conversations.

Amidst my numerous online meetings with university colleagues, email exchanges with faculty and students, and phone calls with family and friends from across the country, there’s one phrase I kept hearing over and over.

“I’m hurting.”

If you’re hurting, you’re not alone. We are collectively and rightfully hurting. Our nation’s soul is wounded. The psyche of the American people is in pain.

When people say “I’m hurting,” it’s the cries over social injustice we hear that drive our despair. It’s the plea for compassion and the desperate appeal to our common humanity that we seek in order to heal our hurt.

Even as our nation continues healing from the pain of a pandemic, America is now hurting from a chronic wound—the collective anguish and grief from being forced to confront the ugly moral crisis reflected by the national protests for racial equality. While the wound may feel fresh, the suffering is old. The agony is all too familiar.

As my students in Chapman’s “Happiness” course discover, happiness is more than just an individual pursuit. When the Founders of American democracy penned in the Declaration of Independence the famous phrase “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” they understood that the “pursuit of happiness” spans both the self and society.

Social justice, human rights, and the general welfare of all people are integral for any society to thrive and prosper. As my colleague Dean Gail Stearns shares in her piece, “…some stress will not go away until we collectively dismantle the unjust structural causes of that stress.”

When the fundamental right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is only conferred upon a selective segment of society—while at the active and systemic exclusion of others—the result is a divided and wounded nation.

The success and longevity of American democracy and the healing of our nation’s soul happen by remembering there is more that unites us, rather than divides us as a people.

The Need to Be Needed

In my role as Chapman University’s Director of Contemplative Practices and Well-being, with an academic focus on brain science and behavior, I recognize that how we respond to hurt is a reflection of how our brains have evolved to process pain and stress. Some of us will react to this collective hurt with anger, some with anxiety, some with alarm.

All these behavioral responses are expected, as they reveal a fundamental truth about how our brains are biologically wired. Recent studies attest how emotional, psychological, and social pain are processed in the shared regions of the brain that regulate physical pain.

It’s actually a recent revelation affirmed by a powerful discovery about the human brain. Your brain fundamentally evolved as a “social organ”. We humans intrinsically crave community and connection. We seek acceptance from and attachment to others. Most of all, we all desire the “need to be needed”.

As I state in my book Science of a Happy Brain: “When the lack of feeling a sense of value, belonging, and engagement is unrelenting, it triggers a cycle of despair and hopelessness that has the potential to accelerate the levels of anger, anxiety, and addiction in society.”

The need to be needed is a fundamental drive that exposes why many feel compelled to be called to action—we simply want to know that our life bears value and our presence in the world matters.

We all want to be heard and seen. It’s precisely the nourishment our “social brain” requires—to belong.

In his piece Behind Our Anxiety, the Fear of Being Unneeded, His Holiness the Dalai Lama perfectly gets to the heart of the hurt that many are feeling. He teaches, “This helps explain why pain and indignation are sweeping through prosperous countries. The problem is not a lack of material riches. It is the growing number of people who feel they are no longer useful, no longer needed, no longer one with their societies.”

Whether it’s an individual or a population of society, experiencing any form of marginalization or neglect produces actual stress and trauma in our brain, body, and being.

The pain we experience from broken bonds (social) is just as real and strong as the pain we feel from a broken bone (physical). Simply put—pain is all the same in our brain.

Letting in the Light

We know from biology that when a bone breaks and mends, it becomes stronger. While our wounds—whether personal or societal—rightfully cause us pain and hurt, they equally provide an occasion for healing and for making us more resilient.

As the renowned Sufi poet Rumi relays, the wound itself is what makes it possible for the light to enter into the soul. Healing is a process of returning to a state of wholeness. In fact, the word “heal” is directly related to the word “whole”.

As painful and raw this crisis appears, as agonizing and hurtful the wounds feel, something beautiful and wondrous is happening.

We are witnessing the healing of America’s soul.

In the eloquent words of the late, great Senator John McCain: “To be connected to America’s causes—liberty, equal justice, respect for the dignity of all people—brings happiness more sublime than life’s fleeting pleasures. Our identities and sense of worth are not circumscribed but enlarged by serving good causes bigger than ourselves.”

We are in a seminal moment in our nation’s history. There exists a precious opportunity to heal our nation’s torn, weary, and battered soul. Honoring America’s philosophical ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness resides in our ability to invest in causes that unite us, not divide us.

Yes, our nation’s soul is wounded. Yes, we are all hurting. Healing the deep social and racial wounds—not just in America—but in our world occurs once we allow the light of compassion, empathy, and justice to be let in.

By fully committing ourselves to heal the painful wounds of racism, injustice, hatred, and divisiveness that have plagued America’s soul, we ultimately grow stronger and become more resilient as a nation and people. Our wounds begin to heal. Our soul becomes whole. We remain the United States of America.

Stay Safe. Stay Strong. Stay Calm. Stay Connected.

Dr. Jay
Your Happiness Professor
Author, Science of a Happy Brain
Online Course: “Investing in Happiness”
Follow me @docjaykumar (FB, IG, LI, TW)

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I’m thrilled to announce my partnership with genconnectU on a brand new online  course:

INVESTING IN HAPPINESS: Improving Your Business and Work Through Brain Science, provides a much-needed roadmap to success in these strange times.

For both businesses and employees, it can be difficult to navigate this changing, uncertain world.

Because the human brain is programmed to seek safety, security and stability, your employees will often react to change as if it’s a crisis — with feelings of helplessness, chaos, stress, fear, betrayal, grief, uncertainty, insecurity and anger.

Now, more than ever, businesses must have a clear strategy to help employees deal effectively with that change. Nurturing them through uncertainty by showing them that you value them is essential to helping them stay motivated and productive. By doing this, you’ll see lower turnover, less sick time, and a stronger long-term commitment, all of which will improve your bottom line.

In my online course, INVESTING IN HAPPINESS: Improving Your Business and Work Through Brain Science, I share novel approaches, insights and knowledge based on research into how the human brain works in a world of change.

Purchase this course for your business and your employees to succeed and thrive. www.bit.ly/DrJayK

There’s never been a time more important to humanize your organizational messages and actions. Learn more and watch a preview of the course at bit.ly/DrJayK

Dr. Jay
Your Happiness Professor
Author, Science of a Happy Brain
Online Course: “Investing in Happiness”
Follow me @docjaykumar (FB, IG, LI, TW)

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How exactly does gratitude make you happy and healthy?

The emotion of gratitude has powerful benefits to your overall health and well-being and helps you to feel more connected to others.

Just saying the simple words “thank you” can lift you out of your own individual concerns and serve to remind you of the joy and happiness others bring to your life.

When you express gratitude, it’s as if your brain steps on the “emotional brakes”. Suddenly, the emotions of sadness, self-pity or stress—that were driving you—are slowed and enable you to cope with stressful circumstances and be more resilient in the face of challenges.

A second reason to pause and express gratitude is that even simple expressions of gratitude can have long-lasting effects on those who receive them. When people feel valued they are more likely to help others.

Scientists now recognize that gratitude is one of the most powerful and healthiest of human emotions. Studies at University of Miami, UC Davis, and other universities successfully demonstrate that remembering to be grateful for what you have in life can greatly outweigh any sadness, stress, or challenges you might currently be experiencing.

Learn more about the powerful healing benefits of gratitude and practical tools for developing greater health and happiness in my first book The Five Secrets for Achieving Authentic Health and Happiness.

Stay Calm. Stay Safe. Stay Healthy.

Dr. Jay
Your Happiness Professor
Author of “Science of a Happy Brain”
Follow me @docjaykumar (FB, IG, LI, TW)

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Quote of the Week

“No external conditions are required for happiness. Happiness is who you are!” —Dr. Jay Kumar