Happiness is intertwined with psychological health to such a degree, we can consider them to be almost congruent. Much to the disappointment of those who crave quick fixes – preferably in pill format — there are numerous ingredients that make up our health. There is a wide variety of toxins that better not enter our mind, such as unhealthy foods that usually go hand-in-hand with poverty, infuriating and threatening social injustice, effects of pollution and childhood trauma. Healthcare providers focus mostly on the effects of toxins, which might be necessary, but is by far not sufficient.
We must also focus on the nutrients that our mind need in order to flourish. There are plenty of nutrients we need to feed our mind, not only vitamins and minerals, but hormones and neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and oxytocin, emitted by daily exercise, plenty of sleep, tranquility, the blues and greens of nature, challenges to which we can answer and, above all, by loving others and being loved by others. If health care providers focus at all on the ingredients that foster health and happiness, they do so often with a lack of understanding, mistaking happiness for happy feelings and positive thinking. Unfortunately, this only adds to the poisons of the mind as many Americans now feel guilty for being a fully functioning human being, able to feel sadness, grief, fear or anger.
Because of health and happiness being such complex subjects, people are inclined to look for shortcuts, specialize, minimize and reduce. Albert Einstein once said, “Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.” It is my life’s passion to do this for the subject of happiness, offering a few thoughts here that may help to simplify the subject without paying the price of losing truth and effectivity:
ONE: REFRAME HAPPINESS
One of the best things we can do for ourselves is to understand happiness not as clinging to the positive, but as living well with the positive and the negative of life. Instead of wishing reality to be different, we can be present with reality, open our hearts and develop skills that enable us to go with the flow of life without sinking.1
The second best thing may be to ask ourselves what stands in the way of our happiness. Accurately identifying the poisons here and the missing nutrients there is the base for a good path forward.
TWO: FOCUS ON THE TOXINS
Write down what you do that is unhealthy, such as spending too much time with toxic people who zap your energy, excessive screen time, enduring discrimination, unhealthy foods, et cetera. List and rank them for their harmfulness. Ask what, if anything you can do about them and what needs to be accepted – at least temporarily.
THREE: FOCUS ON THE NUTRIENTS
Continue with focusing your attention on what you need, but currently not provide for yourself or receive from others. Do you take time to come to your senses, stare at the moon, enjoy silence with all alarm systems — such as your phone — off? Do you relate to other people?
FOUR: IF IN DOUBT, LOVE, GREET AND CHAT
Science has now established that social integration is an even greater predictor for a long life than meaningful relationships. Loneliness is a killer. Love is hard to trump, so this is big news for all those who like to hide from the world.2 Do not hide under your blanket when you are sad. Do not belittle your chit-chatting at the workplace or at the grocer. Volunteer your time, helping others. Humans are the most social animal in the world, depending entirely on copying the learned behavior of others and on the connecting force of empathy. Do not neglect yourself, even if you had the misfortune of having endured neglect in the past. People need people. And it is not all luck.
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© 2018 Andrea F. Polard, PsyD. All Rights Reserved.