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Emily Starbuck Crone

Emily's list: 'Spontaneous Happiness' edition

This week I've been reading "Spontaneous Happiness" by Dr. Andrew Weil, a book in which he explores what happiness is on a cultural, personal and biological/chemical level. He's a fascinating man who helped found integrative medicine, and he weaves in concepts from both the East and West.

In the book, he argues that we don't need to be "happy" all the time -- people misuse the term. Instead, the goal is to experience serenity and contentment on a day-to-day basis as our baseline. Then when something great happens, we're happy, and when something bad happens, we're sad. Then we drift back toward our neutral, yet peaceful, place of contentment.

I'm at a part in the book now where he's discussing numerous ways to find more serenity in your everyday life, and I'm amazed to realize that nearly all of his suggestions are free. So many people seem to be stressed out by money problems and debt, but there are so many ways to reduce this anxiety without spending any extra money. We don't need expensive vacations or costly therapy to get a little peace back in our lives.
Andrew Weil md spontaneous happiness
Weil's only major suggestion that costs money is to take supplements such as omega-3 fish oil, and while that's ideal, it's optional. Here are just a few of his many free suggestions for boosting your mood:

  • Meditate. Just sit, close your eyes and breathe. Use a mantra if it helps. You don't need anything but a quiet room. The benefits of setting aside a few moments for this at the start or end of your day are endless. Do some yoga, too (you can get countless instructional videos on YouTube).
  • Spend more time with others in person. We get so isolated in front of our computers and televisions, but we are social creatures. There is a high correlation between depression and loneliness. Join a book club or a choir. Do a weekly game night or dinner club with friends.
  • Laugh more and smile more -- it's contagious. Join a free laughing club (an awesome tradition started by a man in India) or just watch some funny movies. Studies show that even the biological muscle movements of a smile can cause you to begin to feel happy, so fake it at first if you have to, and then you'll feel it!
  • Volunteer. Research proves that people get a "high" from helping others. But don't feel bad about that -- it's mutually beneficial. Find a local place to volunteer. You're helping people who greatly need it, you're feeling gratitude for what you have and you are, in turn, lifting your mood. If you have kids, find a project you can do as a family.
  • Spend more time outdoors. Our bodies and minds crave being around nature, but most of us don't give it that. We are not meant to be stuck inside all day! Don't eat lunch at your desk; have a picnic outside. Don't come home and sit on the couch; take a stroll around the neighborhood first. If you have a little money to spend, Weil suggests adding some plants or flowers to your home to bring some nature to you.
  • Unplug and experience silence. Weil says that our minds and ears were never meant to be subjected to such an onslaught of sounds and media. We spend too much time around blaring TVs, radios, video games and computers. Set aside some time to turn them off, or at least put on classical or ambient music. He also recommends not watching or reading the news as frequently, since it can actually be quite stressful.

I'm not quite done with the book just yet, but I've really enjoyed what I have read so far. He has a very holistic view of contentment and happiness, and I've already listened to less news, and replaced some of my rock music with classical music. I think it has helped! The daily stresses of work, money, family, pets, etc., can be a lot to deal with, so I love the idea that there are all of these free strategies available to help us feel like we're getting some of our life back.

Before you unplug, however, read on for my roundup of my top 10 favorite personal finance blog posts from the past week.

1. Credit Karma Blog discusses financial guru Suze Orman's new branded prepaid debit card and how it's different from other cards out there.
 
2. The winter blues got you down? Financial Highway lists some fun and frugal family activities you can do together this winter.
 
3. Moolanomy explains what number you should look for if you want a good credit score and which factors affect it.

4. Enemy of Debt reveals why following through with your New Year's resolutions will benefit your health and your finances.
 
5. Does this recession have you convinced that older generations had it better than we did? Tight Fisted Miser uses some anecdotes to show that we have it FAR better than our parents and grandparents.

6. The Consumerist tells readers about a new MasterCard that might just outsmart potential identity thieves.

7. No Credit Needed discusses the importance of an emergency fund, especially during the process of paying off debt.

8. Saving Advice lists 30 strategies you can use to make some extra cash and snowflake your debt away.

9. Money Under 30 explains why budgets don't work for so many people and why you should use automation instead.

10. The Finance Buff wonders why it sometimes seems that everyone else has more money than he does and suggests several reasons why this might be happening.

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