To Be Happier, Focus on What’s within Your Control

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

Seinfeld - Episode #04-0715 (1996) Castle Rock Entertainment. (Photo By Getty Images)
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

This is the Serenity Prayer, originally written by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr around 1934, and commonly used by Alcoholics Anonymous and similar organisations. It is not just a key step toward recovery from addiction, it is a recipe for a happy life, meaning a life of serenity arrived at by consciously taking what life throws at us with equanimity. 

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Fear is the feeling of losing control—making choices is the antidote

Are you scared—of flying, the dark, anything? Or are you scared about not being in total control of the situation?

Fear is a motivator—often, when we're scared, we feel that we want to leave a situation. That so-called "pull" that you feel often has more to do with wanting to be in a place of agency and control than it does, say, being scared of the dark, or flying. Actually, fear of flying is a great example for what Tali Sharot proposes. We all know that we couldn't actually fly the plane if we were giving the controls, but we're more-so afraid of giving up all of our perceived control. You're three times more likely to crash in a car than crash in a plane but we all feel as if we are in control... which is why you don't have many people scared of driving. Tali does a great job explaining the mentality behind fear, and her video here is worth a watch. Tali's latest book is The Influential Mind: What the Brain Reveals about Our Power to Change Others.

Don't Believe the Multi-tasking Hype: Train Your Brain to Focus Better

Your mind doesn't run parallel tasks, it has to trade off one focus for another. The good news is that mindfulness meditation can hone your attention span, and reduce stress and anxiety.

By now, everyone knows that mindfulness meditation is good for you—but what's still surprising scientists is just how quickly it works. Ten minutes of meditation won't make you a better mutlitasker—there's no such thing, as psychologist and science journalist Daniel Goleman explains—but it will make you more adept at switching tasks and returning to a deep level of concentration more quickly after a distraction. Every time you practice meditation, you’re strengthening the neural circuitry for focus and training your brain away from mind-wandering. Beyond the need to concentrate for work, pleasure, or to overcome negative emotion, mindfulness meditation can also help to manage disorders like PTSD, anxiety, and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). This last one particularly has shown incredible results, and Goleman cites one exercise a teacher in a rough neighborhood of New York City practices routinely with their class of seven-year-old kids, over half of which have special needs like ADD and autism. That daily ritual keeps the class environment calm and constructive, and is empowering the children with self-control strategies early on. The scientific research evidence on the benefits of meditation is already compelling, and there are major studies underway, which Goleman expects will reveal many more insights that can be used to instruct creative, educational, and mental health practices. Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson are the authors of Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body.