Muriel Cooper
Psychologist in Mornington

Happiness and success


Reaching happiness and success

Articles about achieving happiness, success and sustaining relationships.

Most of us breathe automatically. That is, we leave it to our body and we don't even think about it. This is unfortunate because we could be doing it so much better and feeling better for it.

The automatic breaths we take are just enough to exist – the recommended daily intake of you like. But it's but the therapeutic dose, the amount or frequency, that makes a real difference to our health and well-being.

For a start, the automatic breath is usually fairly shallow and up in the chest. It's also a 'panting' breath where the input and the output are basically the same.

Let me introduce you to - ta dah - the Vagal breath! It's a conscious breath - you decide to breathe this way. This results in a generally calmer you, and a better ability to deal with acute stressors. Recent studies confirm this.

Angry wife fighting with confused husband

We could all do with a reality check every now and then when it comes to relationships. You were riding along a smooth paved highway and it suddenly peters out, leaving you on a rough, corrugated road. More often than not the cause is stress. When stress goes up, so can irritability. Whatever the cause, here are some ideas to help you get over the corrugations, whether it's you or them. Here are my top relationship tips.

What to do when suddenly, everything about them irritates you

Suddenly every little thing your partner does is annoying. I could list them here but you know what they are. Things you used to tolerate, or even think were cute, now enrage you. Cultivate tolerance of these things. Take a deep breath and step away from your irritability. Do a reckoning of the good things about your relationship instead of focusing on the small, irritating things. You can ask the other person to stop doing the small, irritating things, and they might try, but old habits are hard to change. You need to have patience, remembering that it can take up to 8 weeks to change behaviour. Try to see the funny side. Picking your nose can seem hilarious when seen in the right light.

Smiling woman giving thumbs up sign

Memes on social media assure us that happiness is a choice. But is that really true? Often we see this as a glib cliché. For someone whose life is affected by stress, anxiety and depression, those words can seem like a cruel joke. When you're in the depths of depression, saying you can simply choose to be happy can seem downright insulting.

But can you get to a point where it is possible to choose to be happy?

Few people are naturally happy. Our brain is not wired for happiness, it's wired for survival and that means stress and fear. Most of our thoughts are automatic and most of them are not happy or positive. But if we make fearful, negative thought patterns automatically, can we learn to be happy, and how do we do that?

Happiness is usually a multi-faceted project and not a quick or easy fix. You need to work on it.

Here are some steps to developing the ability to choose happiness and to organise our lives to give us the maximum chance of happiness.

Troubled woman at work

Our harshest critic is usually the one inside our own head. It tells you things your best friend probably never would.

"You're no good."
"You're so stupid."
"You're such an idiot."
"You're such a loser."

Does this sound familiar? How often does this voice invade your thoughts?

Because humans have a moral self (Freud called this the 'super ego'), we are meant to hear this voice when we are about to break the social contract that says "If I am kind to you, you will be kind to me".

However, as Freud pointed out, that voice can become over-inflated and crush us with a constant barrage of self-criticism. The moral voice that helps us with our altruism and kindness becomes harsh and overbearing. We can feel powerless to stop it.

So, how can we put this usually helpful voice in perspective?