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  • Dan Connors

Put some pep in your step- how to be vital and alive

Everyday Vitality: How to Thrive, Survive, and Feel Alive Samantha Boardman

Many of us today are feeling discouraged, disconnected, down, and some are practically dead inside. What's the missing ingredient? Vitality. Vitality is the feeling of being glad to be alive - full of ideas, energy, love, and purpose. But for many it is a fleeting or unattainable goal. We are slaves to our devices, spending hour after hour in mindless passive zombie states. We feel like our own efforts don't matter much in a world that's heading in the wrong direction, and fall into the trap of cynicism and despair that nothing matters except surviving and crossing off that next item on our checklist.

Dr. Samantha Boardman is a New York based psychologist and author whose website, promises to focus on the field of positive psychology. As she says on her main page, " I am passionate about cultivating vitality, boosting resilience, and transforming full days into more fulfilling days. " Her book, Everyday Vitality is a self-help book that delivers good advice on living a better life.

It's very easy to get discouraged these days, especially when reading the news. So many problems seem like they're out of our control, and we tend to get more and more worn out by small annoyances, what Boardman calls pebbles in our shoes. To avoid the daily indignities of life many of us make things worse by burying ourselves into "cotton candy for the soul"- empty activities that add nothing to our vitality but kill time and take our minds off our troubles.

Why is it that so many bad things stick to us like Velcro and weigh us down? Why can't we be more like Teflon and have them float right past us? Humans are wired to focus on negative things more than positive ones from an evolutionary perspective- negative things can kill you! There's something called the Zeigarnik effect, where all of our unfinished business weighs us down and competes for out attention even if 99% of the other stuff out there is completed. (If you've ever obsessed about a date that went wrong or a missed question on an exam, you've seen this).

To combat all this negativity, Boardman recommends looking for uplifts- small victories and positive results that you can focus on. By putting together a series of uplifts- (walking the dog, having a good conversation, getting a hug, learning something new)- you can build positive momentum that can carry you through the day. Even more importantly, she recommends satisfying the three basic human needs: control over your life, meaning and purpose, and love and community.

Feeling in control is central to vitality. We must feel that what we do matters and we matter. Otherwise why bother? Find enough positive uplifts to do that leads to the second key to vitality- a purpose. Making a positive difference, even just to yourself, lights a fire that powers more urges to accomplish more. And then moving beyond yourself to friends, family, and community, where you can make enormous differences in lives around you adds to your purpose and gives your more support that can multiply your vitality.

Here are some other interesting points I got from the book.

- WOOP is an acronym for getting things done. Wish for a specific Outcome, anticipate any Obstacles, come up with a Plan.

- Rumination inside of your head is toxic to vitality. Instead of negative self-talk about your problems, try to distance yourself and ask what you'd tell someone else in the same situation.

- Having deep, meaningful conversations about mind-expanding topics (not sports, weather, or politics) is effective in strengthening relationships. Deeper relationships are keys to meaning and vitality.

- The sharing effect is the phenomenon that sharing an experience with another person increases your own pleasure and ownership of that experience.

- Physical health is obviously essential to human vitality. That means the usual advice- 8 hours of sleep, moderate regular exercise, and a good, deliberate diet.

- Most Nobel Prize winners studied had outside hobbies that helped expand their minds. Creative, artistic expression energizes us, while passive bingeing and scrolling on content drains us.

- Negative experiences should be looked at constructively as data and not disaster. Failure and uncertainty are inevitable. There's a beautiful quote from Gilda Radner that summarizes the way to a vital attitude towards this:

“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.”

This book embodies the spirit of positive psychology, which is about creating healthy and positive attitudes and lifestyles. Dr. Boardman encourages us to be deliberate with our lives, making conscious choices to find things to be happy about, people to love, and goals to work towards. Most of the world's problems are out of our control, but the problems of our own lives and those around us can be influenced by the advice in this book. Get out of your head and off your phone and do things that matter. Turn away from the mirror and look out the window. Savor every moment that you can, and learn something new every day.

It often seems easier to be cynical and negative about books like this, but the ideas are strong and the message is powerful. If you want to feel more alive you have to interact with life positively and not wait for it to come to you. You must feel like you have a meaningful role to play in the lives of those around you, and a purpose to waking up in the morning. And you somehow need to find a way to dodge all of the bullsh*t coming your way and use it as fertilizer for new things to grow. As long as we are alive, we need to learn to be more vital, or what's a life for?

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