The scenario happens so often, it’s practically cliche:
A woman or man in an “unhappy” marriage meets someone new. Instantly, there’s a powerful connection, and maybe even an affair occurs; and, instantly, this person thinks she or he now knows how to be happy again.
It’s feels like animal magnetism meets love at first sight, as if soulmates have found one another. Sometimes, as a result, a marriage ends; but soon enough, the “new couple” spends all their time fighting.
Fights are about anything—a tone of voice, a missed phone call—but underneath they are really about painful emotions, jealousy, insecurity, hurt, anger that may predate the affair, or even the marriage the affair broke up.
Something deep is coming up in these moments of conflict, something that could lead to healing if people had the courage to lean into it . like leaning into a stormy sea and learning to ride waves.
Unlocking The Past
A lot of times we’re magnetized by someone who excites emotions that we bypassed long ago. We find someone who prompts emotional eruptions in us so that we touch again our own buried feelings.
Our culture treats feelings as an illness instead of as a strong natural force. Granted, most of us have never learned to handle that force.
The good news? We can master the raw power brought to the surface in these “crazy” relationships. Then we can feel truly confident and alive.
The bad news? It’s way easier to get a PhD in astrophysics than to master the strong energy inside of us.
Seriously. Think about it—before you go for a PhD, you’ve spent 16 years learning to study and picking your field. With emotions and the energy they contain, you’ve spent your life doing the opposite.
As kids, we learn what’s okay to feel and how to feel it. Good and bad feelings are as natural as good and bad weather, but we learn to run from the emotional waves and wind. Then, as adults we’re thrown into a stormy sea without knowing how to swim.
This happened to my client Marta who turned her life upside down for a man who seemed perfect . until she found herself so anxious and insecure she thought she was going crazy. Old feelings surfaced—not “issues” she had with her mom and dad—but, unaddressed feelings.
When she was a kid, everyone knew that her father had another woman, and everyone pretended things were fine. That was the unstated emotional rule of the house.
Marta deeply absorbed her family’s unstated rules, as we all do. Those rules then seem as natural to us in adulthood as the air we breath.
Consciously, Marta hated her mother’s resignation. Unconsciously, she buried the insecurity, jealousy and anger that she absorbed. Then, she found a man who evoked exactly those feelings in her.
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Her lover wasn’t cheating, but he responded to her raw emotions with his own raw emotions. Marta’s conscious choice was her husband, who talked feelings out; but her unconscious choice was different and she drew this new lover to her from that energy.
Building Emotional Muscle
If, like Marta, you’ve found someone who fires your most difficult feelings, do you want to get stronger? Are you up to it? You can’t get emotionally strong by just talking or using a technique like tapping. If you’ve ever lashed out or wept, you know that emotions have physical power.
Emotional energy is real, and strengthening is not just numbing out or getting rid of feelings, but containing and integrating them. Like Marta, we usually follow deeply laid patterns. How we handle basic feelings tells us a great deal about our pasts.
If you want to build emotional muscle, here are 6 things to keep in mind:
1. Remember, strong body responses are natural with strong feelings. You may feel like hitting or crying, or maybe butterflies are beating against your stomach. This doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. You need a healthy way of containing and releasing the currents of feeling—hit a punching bag, run, write furiously, cry with a trusted friend.
2. Name the feeling and recall times you’ve felt it before. You think this problem is all about your new lover, but I guarantee it’s not. Talk to someone trusted and not involved. Or write, paint, sing to get closer to what’s inside.
3. Answer negative thoughts without judgement. Respond to “I’m being a baby” with the truth: “No, I’m feeling hurt and insecure.” Judging is easy, but harder is experiencing your forceful emotions without just reacting.
4. Pull back from your lover in these moments, even when it’s as hard as resisting a magnet that outweighs you. Fighting will make you too needy. You want a response that you’re probably not going to get.
5. Expand, don’t contract. Remember, you’re trying to learn new responses, not limit what you feel. Maybe you don’t like sadness, but think of it like rain. Even if you don’t like rain, it’s pretty limiting to never go out in it.
6. Feelings, like ocean waves, peak and subside. Over thinking at the peak of conflict isn’t wise. In a stormy ocean, you need physical strength to remain oriented and to get to shore. Same with a “feelings storm”. Afterwards, you’ll probably feel exhilarated and confident. You may decide this is not a good relationship for you, but that’s not because you couldn’t handle the storm.
Feelings contain the energy of life. The more you can experience and choose your action, the stronger you will be.
Carol Freund works with women, men, and couples to better connect with and handle their emotional strength. If you think she can be of any help to you call her at (908) 806-2040 or e-mail her here.
Have you ever felt upside down? Ever found yourself depressed? Discouraged? Apathetic? Have you ever felt like you were losing hope? It will be no surprise if you have been in such a place. And if you have, it means you’re a human. You are like the rest of us. You are like me. Life happens at a frenetic pace, and sometimes it can press in so fast that you’re not able to process and respond to it biblically. The result is that you will experience seasons of discouragement.
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How God Does It
Discouragement is a reminder of your finiteness and fallenness. God did not build you to last in your humanness. You’re not able to sustain all that life pushes at you. The accumulative effect of the day-to-day grind can wear on you. In Psalm 23:3, David talks about his troubles with depression when he says, “He restores my soul.” David needed soul restoration. At some point in the past, he had experienced “soul trouble” and wanted to let the world know how he rebounded from his problems.
David’s statement is encouraging, but saying that “God restored your soul” is incomplete. Without question, the Lord is a soul restorer, but you need more information than that. You need to know not only what God can do but how does He do it. That is the question. Fortunately, David’s parallelistic writing style gives you the answer. At times, David would write in parallelism, meaning he would make a statement and then explain it with his next thought. This concept is what he did in Psalm 23:3.
He restores my soul; He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake!
How does God restore your soul? He does this by leading you “in paths of righteousness.”
Paths of Righteousness
- Are you discouraged?
- Are you a bit upside down right now?
- Are you depressed?
Let me suggest that you walk in “paths of righteousness,” which begs the question, what are these righteous paths? The paths David is talking about are the right way of thinking and living. If you begin walking down these paths, your soul will slowly and surely start to experience the restoration process.
- Open your Bible and start reading. Typically, the Psalms are helpful here.
- Utter a few words to God. Pray. Just start talking to your Father.
- Go to your church meeting. Show up. Expect to engage God there.
- Tell your friend what you have been going through recently. Let them share your burden.
- Take care of your body. Watch what you eat, how much you sleep, and get proper exercise.
Probably some of the most challenging things to do when you’re depressed are the things I just mentioned. There is spiritual warfare going on in your mind, and once you turn to God, you can expect challenges. The challenges are why you don’t want to do this alone. If you know someone who is struggling today, what if you come alongside your friend? Find the discouraged person and lovingly and patiently help them down these paths of righteousness. There are times when it’s hard to take baby steps.
Call to Action
It takes a friend to get them up and walking again. It’s your great privilege to model the gospel to them. Jesus came to get us up off the mat and place us on paths of righteousness. You want to follow His example to the downcast.
- Are you discouraged? Pick two paths of righteousness that you can walk down today, and start down those paths.
- Do you know someone who is downcast? Will you come alongside them to help them down the restorative paths of righteousness?
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“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”
We all have our stories, don’t we?
Some stories merely create a ripple in our lives, while others go deeper. So much so that they can change the course of our lives.
Mine is such a story. It’s no sadder or deeper than anyone else’s. It’s just life; and I how I choose to respond to it, I have realized, is what really matters.
My story was (and still is) big enough to change the course of my life, though.
I chose to respond to it holistically, and by letting go of control and trusting what the universe has in store for me.
It wasn’t as easy as that, however. It never is. And I certainly didn’t decide to respond in such a way overnight.
What is my life-changing story?
My story is of endometriosis and infertility. With the pain that visited me every month, I had always suspected I had endometriosis. It’s not usually something a person really investigates, however—unless, of course, she’s in the midst of trying to start a family, without any success.
Which is exactly what happened in my case when my husband and I decided it was time to grow the clan from two to three.
After a year of trying, it was time to take a look at what was going on. What followed in the next year was a mixture of failure, heart beak, frustration, anger, and disappointment.
In all my adulthood, I had been in control of the key events in my life, and was very successful. I did well in my studies, I held great jobs, I bought myself a home, I travelled to destinations I wanted to, I married the person I love.
Now, for the first time, something that is considered so integral to life wasn’t going to come so easily into mine.
And I was soon to learn that infertility has more consequences than the obvious one of not being able to have a child.
I had to question everything I thought I knew about life:
- What will my life look like without children? Will it be empty and purposeless?
- What will my relationship with my husband be like as the years go by? Will it be meaningless? Will it last?
- How will my family feel about me? Will I (and my husband) be pitied?
- Will friends who have children still be a part of my life? Or will we drift apart because I don’t have any kids for theirs to play with?
I have realized that my actions are the answers to these questions. My actions are my choice.
When something unexpected comes your way, take a step back, take a look around at the whole picture, and decide how you’d like to respond.
This was something that I did—eventually. I decided that even though I had no children, I still could choose to lead a purposeful life, one that is enriching and filled with meaning. And the steps I mindfully decide to take each day will create that life.
I’ve bundled these steps into 5 overarching principles, and I hope they help you respond well to whatever unexpected challenges that may come your way. They certainly help me.
…about discovering who you are. Many of us have our lives totally mapped out—this is how many children I’ll have, this is where I’m going to live, this what work I want to do—to the point where we may not question whether it’s what we truly want.
So when something unexpected happens that changes our life plans, it can shake us to the core. We become vulnerable, unsure of ourselves, and unsure of what to do—and this can feel very uncomfortable. Be brave and ride those feelings out, because you may just discover what it is that you are truly in search of.
…with yourself. Even though life hasn’t turned out the way you had planned, it does not mean that you have failed. There’s no need to make excuses, judge yourself, or shy away from this truth.
And it’s okay to feel angry and hurt; these are natural feelings and are a part of being honest with yourself. But acceptance is necessary. Accept what is. The sooner you realize this, you will be able think clearly and take steps in the right direction with a positive mindset.
…to a different life and to new experiences. There’s no point hanging on to what could’ve been, because it can make us bitter and resentful.
With an open heart and mind you can truly let new experiences into your life. You never know what exciting events may come your way, but that’s the beauty of it.
Be gentle and kind…
…with yourself. Whether you believe what’s happened in your life is your fault or not, you must be gentle with and forgive yourself. It serves no one, especially not you, if you don’t “talk” to yourself lovingly.
To create a life of purpose, we must first love ourselves, because only then can our actions come from the heart. And when your actions come from the heart, you see clearly, feel strong, and are sure of your choices.
…of yourself and the universe. All you can do is your best and go with the flow—and trust that your life is turning out as it should be.
Going with the flow can be challenging, especially if you’re someone like me who likes to be in control.
So remind yourself constantly that even when you try so hard to create a life that you want, the universe may decide otherwise. And how you choose to respond to it is what matters—that’s really what life’s all about.
Flow with the nature of life and you will have the strength to handle everything that comes your way.
In the coming days, Jews will celebrate the Purim festival, a holiday built on the theme of how everything can instantly be turned upside down. In the original Purim story, a day dedicated to the destruction of the Jews became the day of their triumph, while the gallows prepared for the Jewish leader Mordechai were used instead to hang their arch enemy, Haman. Upside down, indeed.
Purim marks as well the milestone of a year since our own world was turned upside down. It was immediately following last Purim that the pandemic caused North American synagogues to close their doors to in-person services, a closure that preceded the national lockdown and that has not yet been completely resolved.
There is however a more empowering aspect of our contemporary Purim story, built on the theme of communal responsibility.
Traditional hamantaschen cookies for the Jewish festival of Purim. (Photo: blueenayim, Getty Images/iStockphoto)
The turning point of the biblical Purim story was when Queen Esther, safely ensconced in the king’s palace, is activated by Mordechai to step forward and risk her life to save her people:
“Do not imagine that you alone from amongst all the Jews will be able to find safety by taking refuge in the king’s palace. For if you will be silent at this time, salvation will surely arise for the Jews from other quarters, while you and your family will be lost.”
Mordechai’s charge — which Esther ultimately acted upon — was to understand that when our focus is limited to assuring our own life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, life is left empty. We will find meaning and purpose in our lives only to the extent that we benefit others.
This value is a staple of our narrative. Jewish sages noted the contrast between Noah, who built an ark that saved him and his family while the world around them was destroyed, and Moses, who refused to save himself alone and said to G-d that he would only accept to be spared if G-d would spare the entirety of the Jewish people along with him.
This perspective is not a given in our world but remains a staple of the religious worldview, where faith teaches us that there are no rights without responsibilities. Indeed, in the early 19th century, a great Jewish leader, Rav Chaim of Volozhin, rephrased Mordechai’s charge to Esther into a sort of mantra with which he regularly shared his view on life with his children and students: “For this is what man is all about; he was not created for his own self but rather to help others in any way he can.”
It is for this reason that the Purim holiday is celebrated by far more than a feast for family and friends. Purim is a day with a special emphasis on gifts to the needy, as well as on sending care packages of food to those who will not be joining us for the actual feast. That kind of inclusive celebration fits Mordechai’s charge, as celebrating by ourselves — much like saving only ourselves — is empty of true meaning.
This Purim provides us the opportunity to focus on our obligation to bring warmth, lightness, and joy to the isolated. It is an ideal time for us to reach out, check in on, and reconnect to those who have experienced an extended period of isolation. Doing so will also help us recognize that beyond the obligation to share our blessings with others, we will experience no greater joy than when we gladden the hearts of others.
Yirmeyahu Gourarie performs a Purim reading from the Book of Esther for residents under self-quarantine due to potential exposure to the new coronavirus, Monday, March 9, 2020, in New Rochelle, N.Y. In Westchester County, student volunteers from a Jewish secondary school were fanning out in teams to read the megillah on Monday evening and during the day Tuesday outside the homes of about 120 families from the community who are quarantined. (Photo: John Minchillo, AP)
This empowering message has resonated throughout this year of great sacrifice. From flattening the curve, to curbing the spread, to the current vaccination campaign — many of our efforts have not been about ourselves. Until recently there was little in the way of COVID-related health concerns for school children and young and healthy adults. Yet, all these populations embraced the mitigating strategies that would turn their lives upside down, only because their doing so would stall community spread and spare the vulnerable. Vaccination is similarly not only a measure undertaken for personal safety, but one that will benefit society as a whole.
Yes, our world has turned upside down, and we pray for the miracle of Purim to visit us once again and turn things back around. But we can expect and anticipate that what will herald that turnaround will be our own national “Esther moment”, when our care and concern turn outward, beyond ourselves, leading us to act with our most vulnerable in mind.
Rabbi Moshe Hauer is the executive vice president of the Orthodox Union, the umbrella organization for American Orthodox Jewry with over 400 congregations in its synagogue network.
Health and science reporter
Think about the last time you were really happy. Not just when you were pleasantly surprised, or you had a “nice” time, but rather a moment in which you were smiling uncontrollably and laughing not because someone said something funny, but because it was a moment of pure bliss.
Those moments tend to be few and far in between (it’s well worth writing them down so you start to recognize what leads to them), and although they give us some of our fondest memories, they also tend to come with a downside: a dull feeling of gloom once they’re over.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve called these “happiness hangovers” (although I’m fairly certain I didn’t come up with the term on my own; I think I picked it up from a friend). These hangovers are not depression, but a temporary feeling that reality is a little greyer than usual. For me, regular routines feel like a disappointment, and I tend to dwell on the contrast between the happiness of the past and the bland present.
There isn’t a technical scientific term for this feeling, but it’s something almost all of us experience to some degree. Most likely, it’s a consequence of the way that humans experience pleasure.
Pleasure is an evolutionary gift. It’s usually life-affirming, which is why we feel it through things like sex and sustenance. Because humans have evolved to be more complex than replicating eating-machines, we also get pleasure from activities that involve a good degree of higher-order thinking, like spending time with loved ones, going to concerts, or experiencing nature—which in turn, leads to happiness. To the best degree of scientific understanding, all animals can experience pleasure but only humans can experience happiness.
Neurologically, pleasure comes from specific areas in the brain called hedonic hotspots. “We know of about five” in the human brain says Kent Berridge, a neuroscientist at the University of Michigan. As Berridge explains for Scientific American (pdf), when hedonic hotspots pick up signals that we’re experiencing something pleasurable, they release their own drug-like neurotransmitters. Nearby receptors pick up these neurotransmitters and create a sensation of liking. Simultaneously, hotspots work with other parts of the brain to coordinate wanting, which is triggered by the neurotransmitter dopamine. Out of that, we develop a conscious understanding that whatever we’re experiencing is pleasurable. Taken together, the system gives us a feeling of enjoyment and deep desire to keep that feeling going, or to get it again in the future.
How exactly these hotspots turn on and off isn’t fully understood, but Berridge thinks it makes sense that they’d be related to happiness highs and the lows that follow. Happiness, he says, is a part of pleasure, and pleasure is something we only feel at certain times.
Back in 1980, psychologist Richard Solomon came up with an idea he called the “opponent process theory” (paywall). Broadly, this states that whenever you feel one emotion, you’re slated to feel the opposite next. This would explain why after feeling happiness, we feel slightly gloomy.
“[Opponent process theory] is a basic physiological phenomenon that the body reacts to any challenge associated with it, and often in a way to counteract the effects of that challenge,” says George Koob, a behavioral physiologist and the director the US National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Koob explains that the idea behind the theory is that we all have a baseline state called homeostasis, a Goldilocks setting when we’re not too happy or sad—just going through life. A super fun weekend or receiving an award would swing that balance in one direction, and the brain may try to overcorrect in order to restabilize. It works in reverse, too. “You can also endure pain and have an opponent process that is pleasurable,” he says. This is why something like skydiving can turn from terrifying to invigorating.
From an evolutionary standpoint, it makes sense that we’d want to come down from happiness highs. Koob has argued (paywall) that if we were happy all the time we’d never heed any potential threats, like predators. Stability and precaution may not be fun, but they’re quite practical in terms of survival.
Usually, we get through the lows resulting from happiness unscathed. But problems can occur when we start to seek out happiness beyond what we can experience sober.
“I think this opponent process system is a key to why addiction persists and gets worse,” says Koob. He explained that when you get a happiness high from a drug, which are at least an order of magnitude more powerful than what we could get from our natural neurotransmitters alone, the emotional low that follows is also significantly more extreme. Another hit later on not only makes a person happy again, but the effect is magnified because they were down from the start. As this pattern continues, the body eventually becomes physically dependent on the drug, too. Quitting, therefore, becomes both a physical and psychological challenge.
Outside of addiction, these opponent processes are just a part of life, an unavoidable consequence of being happy, which is arguably a wonderful thing. You could theoretically try to avoid them by seeking a life without excitement. But I personally would much rather endure a bit of the blues that follows bliss than to forgo joy entirely. Perhaps the best way to get through them is to simply know that happiness will come again.
It’s fairly easy to be happy when life is treating you well. But what about when the s**t is hitting the fan, you feel like you have no control and nothing is going your way?
Why how you think and feel about it all is your choice.
You can choose to throw your hands in the air, be a victim and forever proclaim the world to be a bad place, out to get people.
Or you can choose to ask what lessons the Universe is sending your way. What lessons have you missed in past experiences that the Universe is now slamming you over the head with? What lessons do you need to learn?
You can also ask, “What’s great about this?”
You can make a focused attempt to see the silver lining.
The Power of Choosing Your Attitude
My recent airport adventure is a perfect example. By a freaky turn of events, I missed both of my flights to my destination by about 30 seconds, despite being at the airport in plenty of time. This resulted in me spending almost eight hours at the airport between flights.
At first I was angry, in disbelief that this could “happen to me.” I was mad about having to “waste” so much of my precious time at the airport while having to cancel many plans with friends for that day.
After a few deep breaths, I knew that this thinking would only further damage my trip and my attitude.
I took responsibility for my part in missing the flights which quelled much of my anger (smart phone distractions be damned!).
My next thought was, “At least I’ll get some writing done.” Because of (self-imposed) pressures of my job, I had written precious little the previous couple of months.
I lucked into finding a quiet desk with plugs away from the crazy airport activity and settled in.
I called home to let my husband know what was going on and proceeded to have a deep, very meaningful conversation that we had been too busy for at home.
I had the time to savor a delicious cup of coffee and some fresh juice.
I wrote almost an entire article in peace.
Then I calmly went to my gate, caught my flight and met my friend on the other end. We had an awesome time reconnecting that evening.
All was well and I had so much more to be grateful for because of the whole experience.
What About When Things Get Really Bad?
The story above may seem trivial in the grand scheme of things that can go wrong. But the principles are the same, regardless of the situation.
I’ve used the principles below when facing divorce, job loss, major financial difficulties, loss of relationships with close family members and other significant crises.
The dramas play out over longer periods of time and are more challenging when other people are involved.
The principles are always the same:
1. You’re not a victim. Take responsibility for your life.
If “these things” keep happening to you or you keep attracting the same kind of negative people, stop being the kind of person that attracts those kinds of people and circumstances.
Find people who seem to be immune to these things, spend time with them, study them. Emulate them.
Take responsibility for your part in the situation. This does not mean being the martyr and assuming responsibility for everything. You’re only taking responsibility for your actions.
2. You can’t control other people or your environment. Stop trying to control.
If other people let you down or don’t do what you expect of them, ask if your expectations are realistic. If you were the other person, would you appreciate someone writing a script for you and getting mad when you don’t follow it?
The only thing you can control 100% is you – your thoughts, feelings and actions. Focus on that and let the rest go.
You can’t control the results or outcome. You can only do your best and let the Universe handle the rest.
3. Find the joy in the journey.
What’s great about what’s happening?
What are you learning?
How are you better because of what happened?
4. Smile – even when, or especially when, things aren’t going how you would like.
Whenever I’m feeling down, the first thing I do is smile a great, big smile for thirty seconds. It’s hard to feel bad when you’re smiling. If it only helps a little, rinse and repeat as often as it takes.
If you’re doing something that seems difficult (mentally, physically, emotionally or spiritually), smile and relax your jaw. The task will become much easier.
5. Don’t take anything personally.
Whatever people say and do is all about them. They’re trying to satisfy their own agenda.
If they’re upset with you, it’s because you’re not following the script they wrote for you (and forgot to tell you about).
If they blame things on you, it’s because they’re not willing to take responsibility for themselves.
If they can’t accept you as you are, it’s because of their own limiting beliefs.
6. Decide to be happy, no matter what.
This doesn’t mean that you should be blissfully happy all the time. How boring.
You need up’s and down’s to keep life exciting. Without challenges, how would you learn and grow? Without negatives, the positives wouldn’t feel as good.
Your attitude toward life has everything to do with your feelings about life. If you have a positive attitude that things will eventually work out for the best and you act on that belief, you can feel good about the situation.
You can choose to be happy, regardless of what’s happening around you.
Putting Principles into Practice
I realize that these principles are simple but not always easy to implement. They take practice.
In order to fully implement them in your life in a way that results in more happiness, you’ll need to become more mindful, more aware of what’s happening in the moment, without reacting according to your old scripts.
You’ll need to pause in the midst of chaos to take a deep breath and become aware of those old scripts and consciously change them. At first this might mean simply doing nothing – not reacting, being silent, reflecting in the moment. With practice, you’ll develop alternative responses. Sometimes these will help and sometimes they won’t. Learn from the experience and continue to experiment.
There will never be a point where you’ll always know the perfect thing to say or do that will quickly lead to bliss. There will always be too many new variables with which you’ll contend.
But, with practice, the process of resolving issues and moving away from chaos will become easier. These principles will guide the way.
About the author:
Paige Burkes inspires her community at Simple Mindfulness to see the world in a new light through mindfulness. Download her FREE Mindful Living Guide to discover the simple steps you can take to create more joy, peace and happiness in your life.
Ever had someone tell you to cheer up and smile? It’s probably not the most welcomed advice, especially when you’re feeling sick, tired or just plain down in the dumps. But there’s actually good reason to turn that frown upside down, corny as it sounds. Science has shown that the mere act of smiling can lift your mood, lower stress, boost your immune system and possibly even prolong your life.
It’s a pretty backwards idea, isn’t it? Happiness is what makes us smile; how can the reverse also be true? The fact is, as Dr. Isha Gupta a neurologist from IGEA Brain and Spine explains, a smile spurs a chemical reaction in the brain, releasing certain hormones including dopamine and serotonin. “Dopamine increases our feelings of happiness. Serotonin release is associated with reduced stress. Low levels of serotonin are associated with depression and aggression,” says Dr. Gupta. “Low levels of dopamine are also associated with depression.”
Fake It Till You Make It
In other words, smiling can trick your brain into believing you’re happy which can then spur actual feelings of happiness. But it doesn’t end there. Dr. Murray Grossan, an ENT-otolaryngologist in Los Angeles points to the science of psychoneuroimmunology (the study of how the brain is connected to the immune system), asserting that it has been shown “over and over again” that depression weakens your immune system, while happiness on the other hand has been shown to boost our body’s resistance.
“What’s crazy is that just the physical act of smiling can make a difference in building your immunity,” says Dr. Grossan. “When you smile, the brain sees the muscle [activity] and assumes that humor is happening.”
In a sense, the brain is a sucker for a grin. It doesn’t bother to sort out whether you’re smiling because you’re genuinely joyous, or because you’re just pretending.
“Even forcing a fake smile can legitimately reduce stress and lower your heart rate,” adds Dr. Sivan Finkel, a cosmetic dentist at NYC’s The Dental Parlour. “A study performed by a group at the University of Cardiff in Wales found that people who could not frown due to botox injections were happier on average than those who could frown.”
And there are plenty more studies out there to make you smile (or at least, serve as reference for why you should). Researchers at the University of Kansas published findings that smiling helps reduce the body’s response to stress and lower heart rate in tense situations; another study linked smiling to lower blood pressure, while yet another suggests that smiling leads to longevity.
Everyone remembers that one time when mom or dad accidentally said, “We just want you to be happy.” They were lying. You knew it. They knew it. If it was true, then why didn’t they mortgage the house to cover your foodie trek across Italy rather than suggesting you go to law school? Okay, maybe I’m projecting here.
The bottom line is, we do a lot of things in life that aren’t about being happy. Then, we hit a point where we stop and notice that we have everything we thought we wanted (or nothing we thought we wanted), and we simply are not happy.
That’s okay. Look around the world. Being unhappy is sort of everyone’s baseline. Happiness is not the guaranteed outcome of any particular activity, even a foodie trek across Italy. If we want to be happy, we have to actively pursue happiness, which is a good thing to do, since it’s one of our inalienable rights and all.
A good starting place in any pursuit of happiness is to limit your exposure to people who are not happy. Surrounding yourself with unhappy people will not get you any closer to being happy, so weed them out. To do that, learn to spot the subtle, but definitive signs of unhappiness.
1. Unhappy People Are Mean to the Waitress
My grandmother always said that you should never go out with anyone who is nice to you but mean to the waitress. She also said to use the restroom whenever you get the chance because you might not get another. Damn, that woman was a genius.
A person who is mean to the waitress, the cashier, the gardener, the school crossing guard or anyone in a position with zero authority, is not happy, and you need to consider how much unhappiness like that you want in your life. Happy people do not feel the need to belittle anyone. Happy people uplift those around them.
It’s okay if, now and then, someone gets a little testy because they’re having a bad day, or the person helping them is straining everyone’s patience. But if this is more of a regular occurrence than the rare exception, you probably want to back away and let them work out their own issues. That kind of unhappiness often has spillover effects. Not only will it make you more likely to behave the same way, but eventually, it will probably get turned on you.
2. Unhappy People Try to Negate the Happiness of Others
Do you have a friend who you dread sharing good news with because you know he or she will find a negative spin to put on it? Is someone in your life guaranteed to be the one to disparage whatever it is you’re excited about — your new car, your job change, your latest hair color? If you don’t share DNA or a last name with that person, then why are you still friends?
There will always be people on the planet who will want to negate your happiness. You cannot change them, but you can change how much you expose yourself to them and how you let their reactions affect you. Here’s a trick, the more negative they get, the more you fill your heart with happiness that you’re not like that. See the mirror image of everything they’re saying, so when they come out with, “You really think that color looks good on you?” it gets translated into “That color looks really good on you.”
You don’t have to live in a bubble of bliss, and of course, sometimes the negative vibes can wear down your defenses, but try to remind yourself how unhappy that person is, and let your brain go to a place that stops you from meeting them at their level. You’ll be far better equipped to preserve your own happiness.
3. Unhappy People Can’t Take a Compliment
This is going to be a point of great contention, I’m sure, but think about the happiest people you know. How do they respond when you say something nice to them? Chances are, it involves the words, “Thank you.”
This is not to discount humility, false or otherwise. We were all trained to say, “This old thing?” when someone mentions how pretty that dress looks, but you’re savvy enough to spot when someone is still genuinely flattered and happily appreciates your kind words. On the other hand, the person who is incapable of doing this is very unhappy.
I have a neighbor whose yard work has been going on all summer, but is finally close to done, and becoming quite beautiful. While walking by the other day, I said to her, “It’s starting to look really good.”
I would have expected any range of replies, from, “Thanks. We love it” to, “Yeah, but it’s still got a long way to go,” or even, “I just wish it hadn’t taken so long.” Instead, she snapped at me, “It’s a disaster, okay? You think this is what we wanted?”
The question just hung in the air between us, as if I was supposed to give some magical insight as to what she may or may not have wanted. When it hit me how unhappy she must be, I just said, “I’m sorry it’s not turning out like you planned. I still think it looks great.” Then I went home and hugged my dog.
Unhappy people can’t help themselves. They show the world their unhappiness, whether they intend to or not. And by now, you’ve probably figured out the real message in this post.
Look at the three points above. Do you resemble those remarks? If so, you may need to work a little harder on your happiness.
Here’s a tip — start from the outside in. Don’t wait until you’re “happy” to stop being mean to the waitress. Stop being mean to the waitress now, and let the happiness follow.
Is someone in your life truly excited about something, and you find yourself on the verge of being disparaging? Picture me punching you in the nose when that negative comment comes out of your mouth. Make it your goal to have other people walk away from all of their encounters with you uplifted, not brought down.
Finally, when someone says something nice to you, accept it with warmth and grace. I’ll give you the chance to practice now. “You are so smart to have read this far and to really get what this article is all about. Well done.”
Now, think to yourself, “Thanks, Valerie. I am pretty smart, aren’t I?”
See? Don’t you feel happier already?
To read more, you can visit Valerie Alexander’s website, Speak Happiness, and follow Speak Happiness on Facebook and Twitter. For more detailed instruction in achieving lasting, permanent happiness, you can get “Happiness as a Second Language” on Amazon, and for added amusement, please check out the Happiest Book Trailer Ever.
For more by Valerie Alexander, click here.