Monday, May 2, 2016

Happiness is Medicine

Yes, happiness is something that can be learned. You may have heard that happiness is a choice but the question is how do you learn to make that choice?  When everything is going the way you expected or maybe even better than you expected, it is easy to be happy. Feeling happy is our default when our expectations are met.  What needs to be learned, and it can be learned, is to be happy when our expectations are not being met.

Some people say not to have expectations is the easiest thing to do but I don’t think so.  For the definition of expectation is to have a strong belief that something will happen.  To not have an expectation is to stop believing, to not have hope and what kind of life would that be?  The goal would be to have hope, to have expectations AND trust that if your expectation is not being met that it is for your greater good.  The goal is to have expectations and be flexible for expectations are assumptions and you know what happens when one assumes sometimes.  When an expectation is not met, when you assumed wrong, when you were blindsided, there is something to be learned from the situation and it is usually not about the situation itself or the other people in it, but to learn something about yourself.  If you do learn the lesson you will grow from it.  In that growth your comfort zone increases, meaning you have more situations that no longer make you uncomfortable and you can handle more of life with ease.  Fewer things will stress you out.  In being able to handle more you can live a fuller life.  A fuller life means a happier life for it will be easier to choose happiness with a wider comfort zone.    

When your expectations are not being met you may not be able to see the greater good in that moment or even a year later but somewhere down the line of living your life you will look back on that moment and know that what happened made you stronger.  That’s why the saying, ‘If it doesn’t kill you, it will only make you stronger”, is so well known.

But what happens when your expectations are not being met and you’re in the middle of that growth process?  It can be really uncomfortable.  It can feel awful and look ugly.  You have two choices.  You can either resist the growth and make it feel even more uncomfortable or you can surrender to the process knowing that what you are going through and the way you are feeling is only temporary.

Signs of resistance include addiction, anxiety, insomnia, negative distractions like too much TV, eating too much chocolate and illness.  You can feel resistance in your body in the form of a tension headache, upset stomach or constipation.  When your body is upset stop and check in with your thoughts and find the pattern of thinking that is causing the dis-ease and choose a better way of thinking.  Reframe your thinking whether it is a more healthy thought, reasonable thought, truly happy thought or even humorous thought that puts a smile on your face. Keep a sincere smile on your face and I promise you will feel better!

What does surrendering look like?  The process of surrendering means you choose thoughts that bring you peace and happiness.  You have to have the discipline to 1) watch your thoughts and 2) when you have a thought that makes you unhappy stop yourself and start thinking about something that makes you happy even if it’s a different topic all together. I have personally found the quickest way to put a smile on my face is to think of my daughter.

Only think about the topic that is causing upset in order to problem solve.  Do not dwell on it.  Do not go back and forth in decision-making and if you catch yourself doing so have the discipline to stop.  When we first start watching and choosing our thoughts the easiest thing to do is to distract ourselves as a way of choosing another thought.  When your upset about the topic and you can’t problem solve it then take your mind off the topic all together but make sure you if you are going to distract yourself do it with a healthy outlet like exercise, productive work or an enjoyable book.

If you don’t choose happiness, by default you are choosing sadness or somewhere on the spectrum of sadness, including fear, anger, frustration, irritation, desperation, and on the extreme end, depression.  Yes, depression is a choice that if chosen enough times creates a biochemical reaction in the brain that gets hardwired and starts becoming second nature.  The good news is if you can choose depression you can also choose to get out of depression.

If the depression is due to circumstance, for example a breakup, loss of a job or death of a loved one, watch your thoughts carefully as you process and integrate the new circumstance.  Feel your feelings, think your thoughts but do not get stuck on thoughts that drag you down.

If the depression was a slow process and somehow you find that you went from child-like happiness to adult depression it can be a slow process to get out of depression once you choose to do such.  For once the goal is set, every choice after that either takes you towards your goal or away from your goal. So maybe 10,000 good choices have to be made to get you out of your depression and that will be a lot of work, a lot of self-love, but it can be done.  The progress may be slow at times but you have to have the expectation, the belief in yourself, that you can do it. That mindset will make all the difference.  Know that it is a journey with ups and downs but if you check in with yourself once every 3-4 weeks and you see progress in how you are feeling then stay on the path, keep doing the work, making good choices on what you think, eat, work and how spend your free time. Let go of the bad choices and keep the good choices firm. If you check in with yourself and you do not see progress then figure out what things need to change and start making changes.  One change at a time, to not feel overwhelmed, and start with the change that will be easiest for you to make.

Another key to learning happiness is to have the discipline not to give in to instant gratification, those things that make you happy in the moment but that you later regret.  Happiness is something to be created for the long haul so you have to have enough discipline to see the big picture and choose not to give in to your every whim.

One has to have the wisdom to choose for the greater good, to choose what is best for the long haul.  You have to have a goal in sight and know what choice is going to get you there.  If you think losing 30 pounds will make you happier because you will be able to walk up a flight of stairs without getting out of breath, take less blood pressure medication and fit back into your favorite jeans then you have to have the knowledge that eating that donut that your coworker brought into work is not actually going to make you happy.  You are living an illusion if your goal is to lose weight and you choose to eat that donut.  Yet how many of us sabotage ourselves? How often do we set a goal and end up making choices that don’t get us anywhere other than 5 steps forward just to later make choices to take 5 steps back and end up in the same place. During these times of self-sabotage take time to be introspective and look at your thoughts and debug your brain to find which thoughts are not serving your goal.  It could be a thought of, “I’m working really hard and deserve that donut, “ or “I ate poorly this morning so today is ruined so I might as well enjoy eating the donut”.  No matter how we justify it, it will not make us truly happy. In fact we will feel guilt, remorse, maybe even an upset stomach or a headache from too much unhealthy fat and sugar.

There are subconscious reasons for self-sabotage and they are due to a lack of self-love in forms of lack of self-worth and feeling disloyal to our friends and family if we are happier. In order to reach any goal one has to feel worthy of it.  So watch your thoughts for negative self-talk and ask yourself where that thought came from.  Is the thought something you truly believe or is it the voice of a parent, teacher, or friend?  We are programed with thoughts all the time so take the time to deprogram your thinking when the thought does not serve you by choosing a thought to replace it.  Maybe the thought used to serve a purpose but if it is now holding you back from happiness then it is of no use. For example, you have a goal of making more money but you have a thought that creeps up every now and then that rich people are selfish.  But is it really true?  No. Could you replace the thought with another thought? Absolutely.

Another way we self-sabotage is by thinking if we reach our goal we are being disloyal to our friends and family.  Let’s say you do start making more money and your fear is that your friends or family will be jealous and so that type of thinking actually keeps you from making the money.  If they really do become jealous that is not your fault and shows that there is growth from them to do which is something you are not responsible for. You need to first and foremost be loyal to yourself.

Loyalty to self, self-worth, self-love are all attributes that need to be cultivated for they will bring happiness.  In other words you do have a relationship with yourself and that relationship, just like any other, needs to be worked on with love and compassion.  A daily spiritual practice of meditation, journaling or reading can help you spend time with yourself.  During this time be introspective to figure out what thoughts are holding you back.  It is best to spend this time alone in the morning so you have more inner strength to make good choices throughout the day, bringing you closer to what you really want, bringing you closer to happiness.

Babies are naturally happy and we should be too but something happens down the line of life where happiness feels more like a luxury than a natural state of being. I challenge you now to work towards moving back towards your natural state.  I challenge you to choose happiness. Choosing happiness leads us to feelings of joy, love, bliss, peace, patience, and satisfaction. If you feel that any one of these feelings is lacking in your life take the advice in this article to heart and learn to choose happiness.

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