Muriel Cooper
Psychologist in Mornington

Happiness and success

 

How can I be happy is a good question. We know that when people are happier, they’re less stressed and therefore less likely to get sick, mentally, emotionally or physically. So why do people need to even ask the question?  Why aren’t we just naturally happy?

One answer is that the brain is not designed to be happy; it’s designed to make us worry and therefore keep us from harm by constantly warning us about the dangers of the world. To the brain, especially the stressed brain, these dangers are everywhere! If you have a more easy-going personality/temperament, happiness comes easier.

Is happiness an unnatural state then? Well no, it’s just that we need to work harder at it. If happiness grew on trees then we would at least have to climb to pick the fruit.

So here are 10 ways to climb the tree of happiness

1.   Smile and cultivate a GSOH (Good Sense of Humour).   Our brains are designed to recognise smiles and to respond in a positive way. Our brain releases beta endorphins to alleviate pain (physical or emotional), and we feel better. It is not necessary to feel like smiling. Just a physical smile will do the trick (turn up the corners of your mouth and grin).

2.   Exercise.       Exercise gets you out in the fresh air and sunshine (both mood improvers). At least 20 minutes of sunshine a day is good. You don’t have to hit the gym – just walk 30 minutes a day. Exercise is also a good generator of beta endorphins.

3.   Do something you enjoy.   Doing more of what makes you feel good might sound simple but do you do it? If you’re honest and the answer is no, then make a list of things that you like or enjoy and make a pact with yourself to do them mindfully – that is, fully enjoy them.

4.   ‘Be more present’.   How often are you really in the moment of now? Take a moment as you read this, to close your eyes, take a breath and let it out gently and mindfully. Do it now. See – don’t you feel better?

5.   Do a good deed.   We know that acts of kindness don’t just make the person on the receiving end of the good deed feel better – they make the doer feel better too. If you think about it, why would we volunteer and do the good deeds we do, if there wasn’t something in it for us – and that’s perfectly OK. It’s a win, win!

6.   Eat chocolate.   Yes, chocolate can make you happy. Chocolate releases another of our feel good substances from the brain, dopamine.   Other mood enhancers do too but, let’s stick with the ‘chockie’ (as we call it in Australia). Make it dark – at least 75% cocoa and not too much sugar, you can buy it sweetened with stevia so it’s sugar free. Organic cocoa powder as hot chocolate (or cold) is delicious – the weight conscious can have it with skim milk and stevia or xylitol sweetener (both are herbal).

7.   Take fish oil or eat fish, and don’t get vitamin deficient. Omega 3 fatty acids are a treat for the brain and mood. Taking the fat out of food does nothing for our mood. Try oily fish like salmon, sardines or mackerel.

Depressed people have been found to often be low in vitamin C. They can also be low in vitamin D - get your daily 20 minutes of sunshine and you probably won’t need a supplement. Make sure you let it shine on your face too (no sunglasses). In Australia or other high Ultraviolet countries, do it in the morning or late afternoon when the UV is low. Don’t wear sunblock, a hat or glasses – but don’t get burned! Vitamin B’s can be Important too.

8.   Don’t worry and don’t struggle.   Don’t stop wanting to be happy, but rather, stop struggling with being unhappy. The harder we worry about being unhappy the further away happiness gets.   In fact if you’re worrying about anything, it’s probably counter-productive. Worrying and happiness just can’t exist in the same space. Taking action to bring about happiness is different. If you have worries, write them down, get them out, be mindful and send them away.

9. Re-focus your brain away from negative self-defeating thoughts.   Remember the brain is not designed to be happy; it’s designed to worry and keep you alive. So, when your brain dishes up bad thoughts you do have a choice – do I keep thinking them?   Or do I choose to re-focus onto something positive? Worries and negative reactions do have a place – they’re designed to keep us from harm – but decide to think happier thoughts and you’re likely to get them.    

10.   Have goals and expectations that are realistic. I think it was Aristotle who said “To make a man happy, reduce the sum of his desires”. Expectations in humanity, especially in the West, are pretty big these days. We expect to be happy, to be successful and to have possessions. These are great goals, to be sure, but they take time and patience. Also – make sure they are your goals and not someone else’s (e.g. your parent’s, your partner’s or your friend’s). If you set reachable goals and work your way towards them in small steps, you may be more present and happier.

A Final word: Don’t give up – Happiness is achievable.

If you are depressed - seek help. In Australia Call lifeline on 131114, kids Helpline on 1800 551 800 MensLine on 1300 789 978 or SuicideLine on 1300 651 251.

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