Hi from Sophie Scott.
At the start of this year, did you do what many of us did? (Myself included)
We make great plans and set out an impressive agenda for the year, with key goals, important achievements and projects to undertake.
There's a sense of optimism and renewal that comes at the start of each year.
"This year I'm going to [fill in the blanks]."
But are you like me — that so often the busyness of life interferes with your plans and hopes for a happier, healthier life? We get into a rut and run on auto-pilot.
I spoke about this recently to a lovely group of people.
One woman who came up to me after my talk said it summed up her life completely.
"I have so many important goals but I feel stuck by the day-to-day responsibilities that over-run my plans," she said.
But what if changing your mindset was the key to changing your life?
And the key to transformation could be accepting that, yes, you can be busy but you can also make important steps towards reaching your goals and dreams.
· Three ways to build resilience
· Understanding why we do what we do
· Is decluttering the secret to happiness?
· Connecting the dots between happiness and a sense of meaning
· Moving past shyness to find your voice in a noisy world
Dr Alia Crum, a psychologist from Stanford University, believes our mindset has a dramatic impact on our health and can even play a part in determining our wellbeing.
And she has the scientific data to prove it.
In a study by Fabrizio Benedetti, a professor of physiology and neuroscience at the University of Turin, patients were either openly given medication by a doctor or given medication through an intravenous line.
In fact, patients with anxiety reported a 25 per cent improvement, while those with Parkinson's disease and high blood pressure achieved 15 per cent improvement.
Dr Crum set up her own fascinating study to test the power of mindset, or, "the lens or the view in which we see the world," as she calls it.
She tracked a group of female hotel housekeepers, all of whom were highly active and spent most of their time at work on their feet.
"We asked them: 'Do you exercise regularly?' And two thirds said 'no'," Dr Crum said.
She wanted to see what would happen if she could change their mindset to help them recognise they were active.
"We took measurements like weight, body fat and how satisfied they were with their jobs, then split them into two groups," Dr Crum said.
Half were given a presentation about how their work was good exercise and detailing how many calories they were burning.
When they retook their measurements four weeks later, the women who didn't receive the presentation hadn't changed in weight or body fat.
But the women who had received the information dropped weight, reduced blood pressure, and dropped body fat.
"It was fascinating, that just as a result of a simple 15-minute presentation, the whole game changed, producing a cascade of effects on their health and wellbeing," Dr Crum said.
It's all in the mind, researchers find
A further study reinforced this effect.
University students were told they were drinking either a luxury, decadent milkshake or a fat-free diet milk shake.
In the students who thought they were drinking a decadent shake, the hormone that tells the brain you feel full increased significantly.
But for the students who were given the fat-free, diet version, their hunger satisfaction hormone increased just slightly.
But as you may have guessed, all the participants were given the same drink.
The first group believed they were getting a filling, luxury drink and felt fuller, while the diet shake group thought theirs was a slimmer drink, so they felt less full.
In other words, it was their mindset, not the reality and facts, which was key to how their bodies reacted in both studies.
YOUTUBE: TEDx talk: Change your mindset, change the game - Dr Alicia Crum
So that means telling yourself you have time in your life, and the ability to achieve whatever you want, really is the first step to making it happen.
What if you shifted your mindset to accept it's OK to be busy and that it won't stop you reaching your goals?
In fact, being busy and having a full life could actually move you closer to ticking off your to-do list and projects.
That's what I decided to do.
Instead of seeing business and potential stress as a negative, I resolved to see it as enhancing, invigorating and essential towards drive and performance.
So from now on, as we hit the middle of the year, I'm focusing on my mindset and accepting that, yes, I can be busy and still move towards my goals.
How have you made changes to your mindset to transform your health and happiness?
Sophie Scott is the national medical reporter for the ABC.
Her blog is at www.sophiescott.com.au.
Listen below to hear Sophie chatting about mindset on ABC radio.
By Sophie Scott
“Our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising up, every time we fall.” Confucius
When life doesn’t go exactly the way you had hoped, what is it that helps some of us to be able to cope better, be resilient or even grow as a person through adversity?
As a journalist, focusing on health and medicine, much of my time is spent with patients, some of whom have been deeply traumatised, whether they are living with a chronic illness or recovering from a life threatening condition.
Or dealing with the loss of a loved one. Recently, I spent time with three women, who had unimaginable tragedy in their lives. They had all lost someone they loved to suicide through an eating disorder.
I travelled interstate to spend time with one of the mothers, Fiona.
Her young daughter Tess was diagnosed with anorexia at 11, and died at 16.
What struck me was her quiet determination that her daughter’s death would not be in vain.
“I don’t think anyone can understand this experience unless you have been there,” she said.
Fiona battled for five years, to get her daughter the help she needed.
Instead, she was told by doctors to ‘force-feed’ her child.
Another time, she waited for 35 hours in the emergency room of a hospital and wouldn’t leave until her daughter got medical care.
(See more about Fiona's story here)
Losing her daughter was shattering, but somehow just months after it happened, she found the inner strength and resilience to be able to open up about what happened to her and her daughter.
I actually don’t know if I could have done the same and I admire her so much for her courage.
“I just don’t want other families to go through what we went through,” she told me.
What I realised by talking to Fiona was that maybe her act of speaking out to advocate for change was one tangible way she could claw back some sense of meaning out of such tragedy.
When I went back at looked at the research into resilience, I was struck by the insight that the the creator of positive psychology Martin Seligman had about how people overcome setbacks.
He found the best way to move past setbacks was to move beyond the three Ps:
Personalisation - the idea you are at fault,
Pervasiveness - the belief that an event will affect all areas of your life,
Permanence - the thought that the effect of the event will be life-long.
Do these thoughts strike a chord with you? They do with me.
When something goes wrong, how often do we think; it’s my fault or this will change everything or that life will never be the same now this has happened.
Fiona told me that she struggled to move past feelings of blaming herself when her daughter became ill.
“One doctor said I needed to go into therapy so I could find out why it was I couldn’t save my daughter’s life,” she said.
“That stayed with me for a long time.”
Ultimately though, she realised though that it wasn’t her fault.
It was the system that let her family down.
And while the loss of her beloved daughter would change her life forever, she was able to make a difference to others, by shining a light on a health system that failed her family.
Women like Fiona embody the true meaning of courage, that is ‘strength in the face of pain and grief.’ She spoke out when it was much easier to stay silent.
Her desire to protect other families from a similar heartache helped boost her strength and resilience.
I’ve written more about resilience and the paths to happiness in my book Roadtesting Happiness. (click here to see more.)
But Fiona’s story will always stay with me, as will the stories of the other families I met.
And I know their stories of hope despite sadness and resilience in the face of loss, resonates with others too.
What has helped you to become resilient?
What strategies have helped you to get back up when you have fallen down?
Until next time.
Hi from Sophie.
What is it about seeing someone as authentic and vulnerable that is so compelling?
It's a feeling that can be heightened, if the person is someone we admire or look up to, or someone in the public eye.
Why is it so powerful to admit we are vulnerable and to see that vulnerability reflected in others?
And when others share their experience, what is it about the human psyche that draws us in to wanting to know more?
When actor Angelia Jolie revealed that she was carrying the breast and ovarian cancer gene which had claimed the life of her mother, people across the world were moved by her honesty and openness.
Similarly, when Australian author and I Quit Sugar entrepreneur Sarah Wilson wrote about her lifelong struggle with crippling anxiety, she described the reaction as overwhelming, saying she was literally getting hundreds of emails a day from readers who could identify with her story.
In my own life, at times I have delved into my own experience and written from the heart, about feeling adrift and wanting to live an authentic life.
I wrote that "I realised what happens when you fight feelings of anxiety and vulnerability and are not being your "true self".
When you shut those feelings off, you are disconnected from what brings meaning to your life.
The gap is the disconnection between values that are important to you and how you are living your actual life, day to day. You can read the full post here.
And when I wrote about how to move from the crushing grief of losing my mother to a place of peace, in my book Roadtesting Happiness, (http://www.sophiescott.com.au/store/c1/Featured_Products.html) the reaction was overwhelming.
More than any other stories, it was after writing these reflections, that the audience reached out to me, with a steadying hand on my shoulder, offering comfort but more importantly, telling me that they felt exactly the same way.
That my experience mirrored theirs and that they took solace in feeling there was a way forward.
ARE OUR BRAINS WIRED FOR EMPATHY?
From a neuroscience perspective, it makes sense, that we can empathise with others in a similar situation.
Neuroscientists have focused on a system in the brain called "mirror neurons" as a possible explanation for emotional empathy.
These are a small circuit of cells in the brain that are activated when we perform certain tasks but also when we see someone else performing the same action.
Neuroscientist Marco Iacoboni, from the University of California in Los Angeles, explained how mirror neurons work in the Scientific American.
"When I see you smiling, my mirror neurons for smiling fire up, too, initiating a cascade of neural activity that evokes the feeling we typically associate with a smile," he said.
"I don’t need to make any inference on what you are feeling, I experience immediately and effortlessly (in a milder form, of course) what you are experiencing."
THE REAL CONNECTION
The real connection comes from seeing what others experience and being brave enough to say, yes I feel that way too.
For many of those living with conditions like anxiety and depression, what's harder than living with the illness itself is the burden of having to put on a brave face and pretend everything is OK.
A friend likened it to carrying a huge sack of rocks around over her shoulder.
But when we read the stories of people who own their imperfections, and embrace them, it gives us permission to say 'you know, that's exactly how I feel."
There's a power in that sense of shared experience, that you are not alone.
That someone understands how you are feeling and feels the same way.
Whose journey has inspired you?
What action can you take to reach out to others in the same situation as you?
How much better would you feel if you let go of the need to be perfect and embraced your vulnerabilities and flaws?
Tell me your story.
Until next time,
Sophie Scott is the ABC's medical reporter. Subscribe to her blog here www.sophiescott.com.au
Why we do what we do.
Hi from Sophie.
What makes someone who is unfit start to exercise regularly?
Or someone who has battled weight gain start to lose weight?
Or someone who has struggled become more productive and successful in their personal and professional lives?
It's our habits. Those automatic, subconscious behaviours we all exhibit each day and night .. which drive the choices that we make.
Think about it.
How often do you get home from a busy day and before you know it, you are pouring your first glass of wine while you cook dinner, without making a decision whether you really wanted that drink or not.
Or sitting on the couch after dinner and when you look down, the packet of chocolates or sweet treats in your lap is half empty.
Do we constantly make conscious decisions to behave the way we do?
Mostly not, instead it's our automatic habits that kick in, according to American journalist and writer Charles Duhigg.
His investigation of science of habits describes the 'cue ..routine.. reward loop' that underpins both good and bad habits.
Think about a simple daily ritual like brushing your teeth.
It's an action that we all do, but as Duhigg explains in his book, the Power of Habit, brushing your teeth was a new habit that US marketing guru Claude Hopkins developed through an advertising campaign for a new toothpaste.
First, he created a trigger that would get people thinking about their teeth, by focusing on the harmless film on your teeth.
Hopkins' campaign was "Note how many pretty smiles are everywhere. Why would any woman have dingy film on her teeth. Pepsodent removes the film."
What that did was trigger people to run their tongues over their teeth and feel the harmless film on their own teeth.
The routine was to brush their teeth and the reward was feel fresh and beautiful.
Duhigg says the campaign turned a dud product into one of the top-selling goods in the world.
"It remained America's best selling toothpaste for more than thirty years," he said.
So how can we all use this scientific knowledge to change our own behaviours and I still good habits?
Think about the Cue, Routine, Reward loop.
If your goal is to exercise when you wake up, the cue would be having your gym gear out where you can see it.
It acts as a prompt for you to think 'yep I'm going for a run/walk or to work out.'
Your routine would be to exercise as soon as you wake up.
And the reward would be an after work-out coffee or smoothie.
This pattern is rooted in neuroscience.
As Duhigg describes, anticipating the reward creates a craving in your brain to keep you working through the routine to get the reward at the end.
You need belief!
There's one more important ingredient, to using the science of habits to change our behaviour, according to the research.
You need belief that you can change.
"For habits to change people must believe that change is feasible," Charles Duhigg said.
And for habits to stay changed, you need belief that you can act differently to the way you have acted in the past.
Being part of a group and the support that comes from others who are battling to make similar changes, can be a powerful motivator.
Witness the popularity of programs like 'Alcoholics Anonymous' or 'Weight Watchers' where support and the belief that change is possible, is central to the philosophy of the group.
Try this exercise:
Finish this sentence:
From tomorrow, I am going to:
What visual cue can you put in place to prompt you to do this?
What new routine can you develop?
What immediate reward can you have, that you will develop a craving for, to keep you on track?
Where can I find others who have the same goal who can support me to help me stick to my new habit?
Give it a go and let me know how you get on :)
Whether it's eating more nourishing food, learning to unplug and destress, or breaking addictions to alcohol, we all know the benefits that await from making positive changes.
I wrote about it in my book, Live a Longer Life, where I analysed what medical research has discovered about the best ways to boost our health and wellbeing.
We know we can change, so why not use neuroscience and the tricks of advertising to help us along the way.
Until next time.
By Sophie Scott
"Accepting and celebrating your true self is not easy. It is a journey that few expect or anticipate, and a journey that nobody should have to experience alone. For those who are lucky enough to find self-confidence and achieve self-acceptance, it's the most important journey you can take."
These words were from my 19 year old son Billy, writing about something no young person should ever have to experience.
The day after Christmas, my son got an emergency call to go to the intensive care unit at our local hospital.
His best friend Cooper was clinging to life, after a drowning accident.
The details about what happened were sketchy.
All we knew was that while on holidays, he had been found in a hotel swimming pool in Fiji, underwater for several minutes before he was revived and flown back to Australia.
A brilliant dancer, Cooper had been living with our family in the weeks before Christmas, working part time in my husband’s café.
I had enrolled him to start a university preparation course next year.
Billy and I both began shaking when we got the phone call.
I didn't know how to prepare my son for something like this.
There is no guide book. There are no words to say.
My own feelings were swept aside in an instant.
"You are all so precious to us. You have no idea,” I said hugging my children and my husband's children.
As we sat by Cooper's bedside with his family, we caressed his beautiful face, his tanned skin.
His eyes were shut but we talked to him, lovingly as though he was right there with us.
Our tears splashed over his face, as the ICU nurses quietly did what they need to do.
They were comforting, discreet and respectful.
We held the beautiful boy's hands and ran our fingers through his perfect hair.
There was so much love in this room for that child.
If love alone was enough, his eyes would spring open and he would breathe on his own again.
As a parent, our job is to keep our kids safe, to wrap them with love and say I will love and protect you, no matter what, so they feel connected and like they belong.
That's what Cooper's family had done.
When trauma happens, something innate happens.
I go into organiser mode, so Cooper's devastated mother can focus on being with her son.
I get a second opinion, call my physician friends for advice, and make a contact list of everyone gathered by his bedside.
I gently put my hands on the small of Cooper's partner's back to support him, while my family and friends do the same for me.
There are no words of comfort. Nothing anyone can say or do to soften this blow.
We all know this sleeping boy will never wake up.
We will never see him dance again, or hear his laugh or feel his spirit and energy.
The doctors and nurses leave us so my son and I can say goodbye, then we let Cooper's last moments be with his loving family and partner.
In his short life, Cooper taught us what it means to be authentic and the importance of accepting who you are.
Billy wrote: "Cooper never struggled to accept and celebrate his true self, a gift that would change my life forever.
Without Cooper's confidence, charisma and infectious energy, my adolescence and adult life would have been laden with anxiety and struggle.
Cooper taught me that normality is subjective, and that sexuality is something that should be embraced, celebrated and never hidden. For that, Cooper, I am eternally grateful.
Not only have you changed my life forever, but even in your absence, organ transplants are currently underway that will save the lives of a number of young adults.
Your legacy will live on. I love you so much my darling. French champagne won't ever be the same without you . Rest peacefully my angel."
I have written a lot about living an authentic life, a life of meaning.
But this is the purest example I have ever seen.
Cooper gave us so many gifts.
But his most important legacy was teaching my son to be brave and true to himself.
Cooper lived his life for his passions, giving his all to dance and never apologising for who he was, and how he chose to live his life and who he loved.
At his memorial, we heard how as a toddler, he dressed up in bright costumes, and sparkly dresses.
Aged just seven years old, he grew his hair long and wore it however he liked, sometimes with a red sequinned hairband, given as a birthday gift by a girl at school.
He told his family 'I will not conform to society and get my hair cut.'
Maya Angelou wrote that "when we are gone, they won't remember what you said or what you did. They will remember how you made them feel."
Cooper made my son feel loved and accepted.
That's all any parent wants for their child.
And in losing him, he has taught me the fragility of the world and how everything can change in an instant.
Tonight and every night, I will hold my own babies closer and never let them go.
Sophie Scott is the medical reporter for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Her blog on health is at www.sophiescott.com.au
Cooper Cridland Hayes studied with the Australian Ballet School and San Francisco Ballet School.
Here are two you-tube links of Cooper dancing.
Action expresses priorities." ~ Mahatma Gandhi
Hi from Sophie
As we hurtle towards the end of the year, time can really seem to speed up, (the way it feels in the morning when you are in a hurry and trying to get out the door!)
And so often, you can feel overwhelmed with the plethora of end of year celebrations and commitments, whether it's with work, family or friends.
I know that's sometimes how I can feel.
Yet for many of us, whether you accept those invitations or not, it can be one of loneliest times of the year.
So how to see a way forward?
What I realised is that saying yes to everything means you are valuing all your interactions and different ways to spend your time equally.
And that's rarely the case.
Living an authentic life, a life with meaning, means giving priority to those values that you cherish, above all others.
In other words, it means working out what matters most to you and making it a priority.
Take a moment to think:
What will help you feel the most fulfilled this holiday season?
Will you get as much joy and sense of connection by spending time at your work Xmas drinks as you would by making time to catch up with your closest friends?
And how you choose to spend your time and whether it aligns with your values matters.
Science shows that connecting with others and living according to your core values can increase your energy and sense of wellbeing.
It's part of the 'self determination theory', developed by Prof. Edward Deci from the University of Rochester and Prof. Richard Ryan, from the Institute for Positive Psychology and Education at Australian Catholic University.
The theory explores our natural tendencies to behave in effective and healthy ways by satisfying three basic needs of 'relatedness, competence, and autonomy'.
In simple terms, the theory is that if these needs are met, you will feel well and happy and flourish.
Autonomy is arguably the most important when it comes to living an authentic life.
It's defined as the universal urge to be the driver of your own life and to act in harmony with your self.
What I realised after reading the research was that if you can reflect your priorities and what really matters to you in what you do every day, in how you interact with others, and how you choose to spend your time, you feel much happier.
As I wrote in Roadtesting Happiness, it's not always easy to work out what will make your heart sing and boost your feelings of connection with others.
Try this exercise to focus your thoughts.
The three people who I feel happiest with are:
The three most rewarding experiences I want this holiday season are:
The three practices I promise to do for myself are:
Fundamentally, it comes down to actively thinking about and making choices about how you spend your time and where you put your energy.
When you live more authentically and act according to what really matters to you, you feel happier and more alive.
And this holiday season, when you can feel pulled in many directions, take a moment to reflect what will fill you with joy, so you can spread that love and joy to those around you.
Until next time,
Sophie Scott is the ABC's medical reporter. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
If you have enjoyed this blog, I would love you to share it.
Hi from Sophie.
Why is it that your perspective on life can change so dramatically when you change your environment?
I have been fortunate enough to take some time away from my day to day routine.
What I realised is that clear air, away from all the distractions, gives you space to reconsider what is important and meaningful to you.
Getting away from distractions can allow you to think more clearly, to quieten your inner thoughts so you can really listen to your intuition and authentic thoughts.
But our modern world conspires against this quiet reflection.
We are so switched on with phones, emails, notifications and devices pinging to get our attention.
And a ‘fear of missing out’ stops us from turning it all off and just giving our full and interrupted attention to what we are doing at that moment.
Neuroscience tells us that for every distraction, when we are disrupted or have to stop midway through a task, it can take up to 15 minutes to get back on track and focussed again.
We fear we are ‘missing out’ if we are not connected 24/7 but what I have realised that if we are plugged in and connected, what we are missing out on is a deeper sense of peace and calm.
One of the leadership experts I have been reading is Canadian author Robin Sharma.
He’s a lawyer who became overwhelmed with the rat race and left that fast-paced life to write and lecture on leadership.
One of his key messages is that ‘focus is more valuable than IQ’.
“An addiction to distraction is at the end of your creative production,” he writes. (http://www.robinsharma.com/blog/10/my-20-best-quotes-for-high-achievement/)
I have come to believe that distraction really is the enemy of creativity.
I think it’s one of the reasons that we find it hard to stick to the goals that we set, whether it’s to lose weight, succeed at work or be a better partner.
Think about the most successful person you know who is living an authentic life, according to their values.
The great communicators, leaders and innovators, whether it’s Oprah Winfrey or Steve Jobs, were all completely focussed on their specific goals.
They ignored distractions and instead stuck with what they believed in, even when obstacles were put in their way.
We can all bring that same sense of focus and quiet determination to whatever we want to achieve.
But how can we do it?
Mindfulness and meditation is one good way to teach our brains to filter out the distractions and to boost our ability to focus.
(I write about it in my book Roadtesting Happiness.
Meditation is a proven technique to tame that voice in your head, to weed out the negative thoughts and to focus, really focus on what’s important.
The science on the benefits of meditation to boost focus and reduce stress is unequivocal.
According to scientist Sara Lazar, from Massachusetts General Hospital, regular meditation can directly alter and structure and functioning ability of the brain.
‘We found that regular meditation can lead to structural changes in the part of the brain governing sensory, cognitive and emotional processing,” she said.
So while I can’t promise you that I won’t check my social media, before I do, I will stop and think, ‘what am I giving up by doing this, take a few deep breaths and ask myself is there a more meaningful use of my time”’.
What steps have you taken to feel more focused and less distracted in your busy world?
Until next time.
Hi from Sophie.
Could you give away every possession in your life that doesn't bring you joy?
You might have heard about Marie Kondo .. the Japanese de-cluttering expert who recommends appraising every item you own.
If if brings you joy, you keep it.
Otherwise it has to go.
It made me think about why we hang on to 'stuff' whether it's the physical things around us or the stuff we carry around inside our own heads.
I caught up recently with a travel writer who has spent the last 3 years traversing the planet, with no home base.
"But where is all your stuff?' I asked incredulously.
"I just got rid of it all," he told me.
It made sense for him to live as simply as possible.
And it made me question whether I could do the same.
As someone who likes to accumulate things, I have always been fascinated with the psychiatric disorder of hoarding.
Not for the shock reality freak show aspect of the condition.
Instead, what I am interested in is that it's not about the 'stuff' that people hoard, it's the meaning that they attach to otherwise meaningless bits and pieces.
And that's why as a psychiatric disorder, it is so difficult for many people to overcome, because people who hoard can be so emotionally connected to the flotsam and jetsam of life that the rest of us throw out.
For them, cleaning up can literally be soul-destroying.
And it's often that living life through a lens of loss and grief that brings those feelings sharply into focus.
What lies behind that desperate desire to hang on to objects can so often be the sense of impermanence with loved ones and relationships.
(How many cake tins does one cook need?)
Coming from a family of cooks, what's most meaningful to me and my sister is pretty simple, really.
It's the ceramic baking dish that Gran used to make our favourite lemon delicious or the wine glasses where the adults would make champagne cocktails (sugar cube soaked in brandy, filled with good champagne.)
It's not the bits and pieces themselves, its the meaning we've attached to them.
When I look around my home and family, I hope my own boys will want to hang on to some of those treasured items that we have used to cook together and share experiences.
So I have to be honest and realise that maybe, I am not going to be adopting the Japanese approach anytime soon and appraising each item in my life for 'joy'.
But I will think about what I hold on to and why I hold to it.
And just like tidying up your bedroom and getting rid of the unnecessary clutter can feel productive and bring a sense of order, so to can collecting your thoughts and throwing out the emotions and thoughts that are no longer serving you.
And while my globe trotting friend is happy to unload his 'stuff' I think I will be hanging on to some of my things (well my baking trays at least) for a bit longer.
What can't you let go of..?
Until next time,
Sophie Scott is the ABC's medical reporter, an author and presenter.
Subscribe to her blog www.sophiescott.com.au
Hi from Sophie.
In the busyness of life how do we create a life with meaning?
At the start of this year, I wrote about feeling vulnerable and losing touch with my authentic self.
One of the touchstones was feeling like I had lost a sense of meaning in daily life, something so many of us feel.
It's all too easy to get swept up in the daily pressures, the endless to do list that never gets done.
And while we thrive on being wanted, needed and giving our time and effort towards others, how often do we step back and say-what do I actually want?
What am I doing in my life that gives it a sense of meaning?
And science tells us that meaning does matter.
I wrote about the pursuit of happiness (and meaning) in my book Roadtesting Happiness.
It was my search for meaning after my mother had died.
What I learnt about meaning came from the father of positive psychology Prof Martin Seligman, from the department of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.
He defined the happiest life as the one with a true sense of meaning.
I didn't quite grasp what he means until he explained.
"The meaningful life is about finding a deeper sense of fulfilment by using your strengths in the service of something larger than yourself and nourishing others," he said.
His studies found that the pursuit of pleasure on its own had no bearing on increasing happiness but that the pursuit of meaning itself was the strongest factor in increasing your life satisfaction.
And in my own way, I understand what he meant.
Writing a book on happiness, through the lens of grief, has helped others in the fog of sadness to see a way forward.
I always remember a particular letter I received from a young mother whose twin girls had died shortly after being born.
"No one else helped me understand that it was okay to feel sad and devastated by what had happened, but that it was also okay to search for a way forward into happiness," she wrote.
"Your book gave me that."
When I read those words, it hit me. That was my sense of meaning, that I could feel so grateful to be able to help others, even if it was just one other person, to find a way forward when all hope seemed lost.
My challenge to you is to consider:
What are you doing when you feel the most energised and fulfilled?
What do you love that fills you with joy?
How can you be more open to change and seizing everything life has to offer?
Inevitably, there may be obstacles and difficulties that arise on your journey.
Problems might crop up at work or at home or you might be disappointed with the way thing in your life turns out.
How do you hang onto that sense of meaning and not be discouraged?
I found inspiration in the words of the Dalai Lama.
When he encounters problems or difficulties, he finds it helpful to stand back and take the long-term view rather than a short term one.
Determination, effort and time are the essential ingredients of happiness and meaning, according to the Dalai Lama.
By looking at the situation from a wider perspective, it helps you to realise that things are not always going to be the way they are now.
It helps you not to lose hope and to keep focused on your goal of being happier and living a more meaningful life.
How do you find and keep a sense of meaning in your life?
Until next time.
Sophie is the ABC's National Medical reporter. Subscribe to her popular blog
By Sophie Scott
"In a gentle way you can shake the world." Gandhi
This little girl isn't me. But I love her happy face yet shy demeanour as well.
In a world that praises extroverts and being 'outgoing', where do those of us who are shy and introverted fit in?
I grew up in a large, noisy extended family of women.
Although I wouldn't describe myself as shy, I know what it's like to prefer to listen and observe, rather than always contributing.
One of the biggest challenges in this noisy world is finding your own voice.
And if you are shy, it can be hard to be heard, listened to and acknowledged over all the racket.
But Harvard law school graduate and author Susan Cain says that's where the value of being an introvert comes.
Her book 'Quiet, the Power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking' became an international best seller.
In it, she argues that introverts have a wealth of hidden talent and that many highly successful people are in fact shy and introverted as well.
"The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting. For some, it's a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk," she writes.
"Use your natural powers -- of persistence, concentration, and insight -- to do work you love and work that matters. Solve problems. make art, think deeply."
At a women in science discussion I hosted recently, the topic of feeling uncomfortable in the spotlight came up.
The scientists told me that many of them feel much more at ease toiling away in their laboratories working on breakthroughs and cures, than standing in front of an audience bragging about their findings.
In fact, three of the four brilliant women scientists on the panel that day told me they would describe themselves as introverts.
And that they would much rather have been in the audience than up on the stage with me talking about the importance of women in science.
But you would never have known it .. from the passionate, eloquent way the women spoke to the audience, that they were shy.
What impressed me most was that they admitted to the audience that they were vulnerable, and that showing up and putting themselves out there, didn't come naturally.
But here's the important point... they did it anyway.
They got past the point when our emotions kick in, when our bodies react.
You get that heart thumping and that sinking feeling in your stomach.
But you keep going.
What I learned from them that day is that when you are stepping outside your comfort zone, you don't have to be comfortable, you just have to show up, lean in and do your best.
Give it your all, even if it doesn't come naturally.
And I like Susan Cain's friendly reminder that whoever you are, bear in mind that appearance is not reality.
"Some people act like extroverts, but the effort costs them energy, authenticity, and even physical health. Others seem aloof or self-contained, but their inner landscapes are rich and full of drama. So the next time you see a person with a composed face and a soft voice, remember that inside her mind she might be solving an equation, composing a sonnet, designing a hat. She might, that is, be deploying the powers of quiet."
Her work underscores that there is vulnerability and even fragility in even the most 'successful' confident people.
And to be truly happy, we need to accept our flaws as hard as that may be.
How have you coped growing up an introvert, and what's helped you along the way?
Love to hear your thoughts.
Until next time.
Sign up for my blog to get the latest thoughts in health, happiness, and emotional well being.