An expert tells you how to pursue happiness in a way that you can actually get it.
Dr. Wendy Walsh: Happiness is good for your mind and your body. It has been scientifically proven that happy people are more optimistic, confident, and they have more energy and more friends. They are also better prepared to deal with difficult situations, are more enjoyable to be around, and achieve their goals better than unhappy people. In addition, happy people appear to be healthier and live longer.
So how can we all achieve that elusive quality called happiness? Science has given us some sure-fire tips and tools to improve mood, and to understand how they work, we need to understand happiness. Happiness is part environment and part biology -- and everyone has their own set-point level of happiness (and it's higher than you might imagine). Most people lean toward being happy than unhappy. Temporary boosts of happiness happen when the pleasure center of the brain is stimulated and dopamine is released. Endorphins also increase the release of dopamine.
Besides ingesting "dope" (Yes, that's where the name came from) and suffer the crash, what are the other ways to increase happiness? Here are my top ten favorites:
1. Be Kind. Do five random acts of kindness in one day. Acts may include holding the door open for someone, paying for the car behind you at the
drive-thru or gas station, putting lottery tickets on windshields with a good luck note, or writing a letter to a long lost teacher who inspired you. Studies have shown that acts of kindness increase happiness and provide the best boost if done in a clump rather than spread out over a week.
2. Move Your Body. Whether it's a long walk or a salsa class, moderate exercise produces endorphins that trigger pleasurable feelings in your brain that last for hours.
3. Look Down, Not Up. This is a count your blessings lecture, ladies. If you find yourself too often looking at the competition and those who appear to be living better than you. Know two things: Appearances are deceiving, and if you're living in America and reading this on a computer, I promise there are far more people doing worse than you. Being grateful for what you have can bring great feelings of contentment and self-pride.
4. Talk. Talk. Talk. Funny thing is, when we talk about our misfortunes with friends, we try to make it entertaining to our listeners. In doing so, we often put a humorous slant of the story. Telling your story to a variety of audiences and tailoring it to each of their perspectives helps us reframe our losses and find hope and laughter in our sadness.
5. Find Your Roots. Studies have shown that people who search out and their cultural heritage find feelings of pride and unity with others who have a shared history. Knowing your place in evolution's chain gives meaning to your life and helps you bond with others and develop an appreciation for those of other ethnic groups.
6. Find Your Happy Place. Our brain stores millions of memories (mostly good), so when you are feeling down, it can help to return to thoughts where you experienced great pleasure. Learn to scan your memory bank for your strengths, talents, passions, interests, practical coping skills, and earlier potential to glean material that can be used to reinvent yourself to be happier.
7. Listen to Music. Whether regarded as an evolutionary accident as the gateway to our emotions, music activates parts of the brain that can trigger happiness, releasing endorphins similar to the ways that sex and food do. Music can reduce pain during surgical or dental procedures and can inspire us to be more creative.
8. Cuddle with Someone. Human touch ignites our senses and creates a pleasure response in the brain. So, cuddle with your kids, hold hands with an elderly person, stroke a pet, or best of all, get down in the sheets with your lover. All these acts of touch can bring great feelings of euphoria.
9. Eat Well. Depression is partly biological and your brain needs the right nutrients to function at the top of its game. Take fish oil and a multivitamin daily and make sure you eat protein at least twice per day. A carb-loaded diet can create highs and lows just like sugar.
10. Meditate and/or pray. Stop the train of stress and sit down with a candle and twenty minutes of deep breathing. Calming your mind, lowering your heart rate and blood pressure, while connecting to your body's sensations, can create deep feelings of calm, pleasure and peace. And that sure sounds like happiness to me.
Finally, remember that happiness can lead to success, rather than just the other way around. Happy individuals are predisposed to seek out new opportunities and set new goals. After reviewing data of 225 studies gathered from more than 275,000 individuals, a team of psychologists concluded that while previous research assumed that happiness stemmed from success and accomplishment, happiness is often a result of positive emotions. Success is the result of many factors, including physical health, intelligence, family and expertise -- all things linked to happiness.
|Dr. Wendy Walsh holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and her area of interest is Attachment Theory, a psychological, evolutionary and ethological theory that provides a descriptive and explanatory framework for understanding interpersonal relationships between human beings. As a psychological assistant registered with the California Board of Psychology, Dr. Walsh has treated individuals, couples and families for a variety of mental health concerns including personality disorders, anger management, eating and substance disorders, and depression.|