Happiness seems to be a hot topic these days and for good reason. So many of us are working ourselves to death (literally) and taking very little time to simply be happy. It's crazy to me that we have to make an effort to be happy, like we have to make an effort to be healthy, but that is the point that our society has come to ..
happiness and health are no longer a natural baseline
I'm not even going to try to pretend I'm happy all the time--or even most of the time--as I write this. I want no part of that holier-than-thou mentality and that's mostly because I have commitment issues. It's also because I have to work exceptionally hard to be happy. I don't get it, just like I don't understand why I can't have blue eyes, but it's just the way my brain works.
I like to blame my super smart brain for over thinking everything, and instead of being blindfully blissful, I'm always aware of a certain doom that could potentially be happened upon. It's morbid, I know, but it also makes me an incredibly strategic person.
As an overthinking, uber-literal, strategic-planning person, I have a sort of tool set that I refer to, daily, in order to make sure I don't slip into any funk and I keep my feet on the ground.
What's the big deal?
An Evolutionary Perspective
Stress is no joke and a lot of us here in the U.S. wear it like a badge of honor. This bothers me. (this could be due to my overly literal brain) The stress response system that is built into our bodies is designed in a way to help us escape immediate danger .. think "Fight or Flight" response. This is an incredibly valuable tool as at one point in our existence it was very important to have enough adrenaline and energy to escape or fight a terrible situation. (Think of a caveman accidentally crossing paths with a hungry lion). The idea is that we are smart beings with big, smart brains and so we would know not to go in the way of hungry lions, but on that one unfortunate occasion, we have a wonderful stress response system to help save us.
Otherwise, what did cavemen and cavewomen have to worry about? The bugs, the dirt, and maybe the weather. They worked together, moved their bodies, fed off the Earth, and for the most part kept stress to a minimum except that-one-time-Johnny-startled-the-lion's-den .. and that other time they accidentally crossed paths with the other tribe.
Do you see where I'm going with this? Stress was a 2-3 times per year occurrence, not an hourly occurrence like we have now.
Our brains are so smart and efficient at dealing with stress that they pump out different hormones that trigger the release of sugar and fat to be used for energy while you are running away from impending doom. The problem is that now we are not running away from lions every once in awhile .. instead we are stuck in traffic, fighting with our spouses, working overtime, sitting with annoying coworkers, picking up the kids ... Our brains are constantly triggering this stress response system even though it's truly not necessary.
What happens is that the excess sugar (glucose) and fat content are not used up and instead, essentially, plug up the rest of our organs. (um, hello heart disease) This is precisely why exercise is so good for you! Use up that excess stress gunk that is floating around instead of letting it clog up your organs.
What is 'happiness'? Could you define it? Really. What is happiness? It's a state of mind, is all. If you feel happy, well, then who am I to say you're not? So then how do we achieve this all while meeting so many deadlines and sifting through so many cars on the road?
Act like you're happy
That is exactly what I learned in grad school and it's exactly what I tell anyone and everyone that will listen: if you pretend to be happy and do things that would normally make you happy then eventually your brain will catch up. This is not to say that stifling your unhappiness is the cure. No way, man. Instead, acknowledge your stress/unhappiness/sadness/anger/whatever, and then get up and go do something that usually makes you happy. It tricks your super smart brain into thinking that you're okay and so it starts responding accordingly.
Try to be happy
Simply trying to become happy really is the first step and gets you over the biggest hurdle. For me, that's long walks outside in the sunshine, running, and shopping at the Farmer's Markets. It sounds crazy how simple these things are (and how trendy-hippie they are) but they totally work. My quiet time makes me so happy and when I'm sad I just shut everything off for a day and dedicate it to these things.
Look like you're happy
The same goes for your facial expressions: allow them to soften a bit and then re-group the muscles in a lighter, happier way. Your mood will follow suit. Did you ever watch Ally McBeal and notice that "Biscuit" would always offer a forced smile at the recommendation of his therapist? Well, he was onto something. A fake smile won't cut it, but a real one that comes from deep within will.
Notice the small stuff
One time I was driving around Miami, completely lost because the "grid" that the natives always brag about is really more like a maze, and on the brink of a meltdown I noticed a row of palm trees that shot up into the perfectly blue and pristine skyline. I smiled. It's kind of silly because almost every median is lined with palm trees but the fact that they were backed with a bright, blue sky made me so happy. I became so grateful that this was my view when much of the country is covered in ice, and instead of being frustrated I began to enjoy my extra long route (I wasn't going to find my way to my destination any faster by being frustrated, right??)
Move your body
Just a 30 minute brisk walk can take you from blah to fabulous. Okay, it's not that simple, but moving your body triggers your brain to release serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine in the brain. These are the same chemicals that antidepressants try to imitate .. so you could be producing your very own antidepressants. And if you're not depressed? Well imagine what that would feel like!!
These things work for me and though I am human and slip up sometimes (and end up in an irreversibly bad mood) these tricks can often take my sour mood to a pretty great one, quickly. But this is because I practice it very often and as the adage goes, "neurons that fire together wire together." What this means is basically that your brain is like a muscle. The more you use it in a certain way (like harnessing happiness) the stronger those connections will be and the easier it will be to just have the best day ever ..
My Recommended Happiness Boosters
Also, I have some tangible tricks up my sleeve, as well. When I need some intense personal therapy I often brew a cup of tea, rub some lavender oil on myself, put on Micahel Franti, make myself a chocolate treat, slather myself in luxurious butter, and just have serious me time. These items are my go-to items for this, and this book (or any book by David Sedaris) is pretty damn funny and makes it hard not to just be happy.
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