Self-Care Bulletin: The Gamification of Happiness and an Introduction to Meditation

Gamescom 2015
COLOGNE, GERMANY – AUGUST 05: Visitors try out the massively multiplayer online role-playing game ‘World Of Warcraft’ at the Blizzard Entertainment stand at the Gamescom 2015. (Photo by Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images)

As I suspected, hearing and sharing people’s stories has been incredibly rewarding, but the follow-up has come as a genuine surprise.

Two interviewees—Ashley Griggs and Margaret Hoffman—recently E-mailed me with interesting articles related to self-care. Their openness and generosity has inspired me to share these insights with the world. Starting now, a “Self-Care Bulletin” will be published when new materials and resources are sent my way.

  1. Stop Vs. Wait

Yoga has become something of a status symbol in this country. It’s that image of the “young professional” striding down the street, taking that business call, yoga mat in tow. After all, we know better now. We know how to do it all, do it perfectly, and be healthy as fuck.

Yoga is tangible. It’s easy to gauge your progress. Meditation, on the other hand, may seem a little more mysterious. We exert nothing, do nothing, and thinking only inhibits the experience. It’s everything our culture has taught us not to do in order to be happy, which is nothing.

Ashely’s suggested reading, “The 2 Minutes a Day that Save Me,” comes from Huffington Post contributor Tina Rowley, a writer/performer who is also a meditation enthusiast. She describes her personal experience with meditation, which feels all too familiar for those of us who’ve attempted meditation. The keyword is attempt, not accomplish.

She quotes “The Untethered Soul” by Michael Singer to explain why doing nothing seems like an impossible ideal.

“Just stop for a moment and see what you have given your mind to do,” writes Singer.

“You said to your mind, ‘I want everyone to like me. I don’t want anyone to speak badly of me. I want everything I say and do to be acceptable and pleasing to everyone. I don’t want anyone to hurt me. I don’t want anything to happen that I don’t like. And I want everything to happen that I do like.’ Then you said, ‘Now, mind, figure out how to make every one of these things a reality, even if you have to think about it day and night.’ And of course your mind said, ‘I’m on the job. I will work on it constantly.'”


But for those of us trying to step into the practice, Rowley speaks a great technique to help us cultivate a starting point.

“Once I read—I forget, sadly, where—that a great meditation technique is just to sit down and wait,” she writes. “The simplicity of waiting appeals to me in the same way that stopping does. The difference is: stopping feels like waiting minus the expectation for something to happen.”

  1. Turning Stress into Excitement

Margaret’s fascinating link is something that’s completely new to me. “High Score,” written by Nathan Heller for The New Yorker, introduces the idea of mixing the mental strategies of gaming with our quest to diminish stress and cultivate happiness.

Meet Jane McGonigal, the author of “SuperBetter.” After hitting her head in 2009 and sustaining a concussion, McGonigal experienced debilitating symptoms like vertigo and nausea for over a month. As a way to manage her newfound challenges, McGonigal created the persona Jane the Concussion Slayer to aid her recovery.

The article offers a 7-step strategy presented in “SuperBetter” to counter difficult or stressful situations by “living gamefully.”

  1. Challenge yourself.
  2. Collect and activate power-ups.
  3. Find and battle the bad guys.
  4. Seek out and complete quests.
  5. Recruit your allies.
  6. Adopt a secret identity.
  7. Go for an epic win.

According to McGonigal, the SuperBetter method can improve our wellbeing even while battling anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and PTSD, and there appears to be ample research, data, and testimonials to support her method.

The details that caught my eye were her physiological research that led her to the SuperBetter method.

“The bodily sensations of anxiety and excitement are nearly identical, she writes, and, if you convince yourself that every threat is a challenge, ‘your brain can’t always tell the difference,’” explains Heller. “Having friends—or allies—around can cause cortisol levels to drop, indicating a decrease in stress. Power-ups raise ‘vagal tone,’ the activity of the vagus nerve, which governs parasympathetic function. The catalogue of benefits proceeds from there.”

While I hope to get into the literature when I have the time, if you find these resources useful to your self-care, please let me know!


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