Keeping Your Emotional Health
Emotional health is an important part of overall health. People who are emotionally healthy are in control of their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. They are able to cope with life’s challenges. They can keep problems in perspective and bounce back from setbacks. They feel good about themselves and have good relationships.
Being emotionally healthy does not mean you are happy all the time. It means you are aware of your emotions. You can deal with them, whether they are positive or negative. Emotionally healthy people still feel stress, anger, and sadness. But they know how to manage their negative feelings. They can tell when a problem is more than they can handle on their own. They also know when to seek help from their doctor.
Research shows that emotional health is a skill. There are steps you can take to improve your emotional health and be happier.
Path to improved well being
Emotional health is an important part of your life. It allows you to realize your full potential. You can work productively and cope with the stresses of everyday life. It helps you work with other people and contribute to society.
It also affects your physical health. Research shows a link between an upbeat mental state and physical signs of good health. These include lower blood pressure, reduced risk of heart disease, and a healthier weight
There are many ways to improve or maintain good emotional health.
Be aware of your emotions and reactions. Notice what in your life makes you sad, frustrated, or angry. Try to address or change those things.
Express your feelings in appropriate ways. Let people close to you know when something is bothering you. Keeping feelings of sadness or anger inside adds to stress. It can cause problems in your relationships and at work or school.
Think before you act. Emotions can be powerful. Give yourself time to think, and be calm before you say or do something you might regret.
Manage stress. Try to change situations causing you stress. Learn relaxation methods to cope with stress. These could include deep breathing, meditation, and exercise.
Strive for balance. Find a healthy balance between work and play and between activity and rest. Make time for things you enjoy. Focus on positive things in your life.
Take care of your physical health. Your physical health can affect your emotional health. Exercise regularly, eat healthy meals, and get enough sleep. Don’t abuse drugs or alcohol.
Connect with others. We are social creatures. We need positive connections with other people. Make a lunch date, join a group, and say hi to strangers.
Find purpose and meaning. Figure out what it is important to you in life, and focus on that. This could be your work, your family, volunteering, caregiving, or something else. Spend your time doing what feels meaningful to you.
Stay positive. Focus on the good things in your life. Forgive yourself for making mistakes, and forgive others. Spend time with healthy, positive people.
Things to consider
People who have good emotional health can still have emotional problems or mental illness. Mental illness often has a physical cause. This could be a chemical imbalance in the brain. Stress and problems with family, work, or school can trigger mental illness or make it worse.
Counseling, support groups, and medicines can help people who have emotional problems or mental illness. If you have an ongoing emotional problem, talk to your family doctor. He or she can help you find the right type of treatment.
Questions to ask your doctor
What steps should I take to improve my emotional health?
Would medicine help me be able to cope better?
Should I see a therapist or counselor?
How does my physical health affect my emotional health?
What stress management techniques would work best for me?
Health and Wellness Associates
Dr M Williams
How to tell if you are in a bad relationship
Have you been dumped, betrayed or left so heartbroken that you didn’t ever want to love again? Are you still stuck on an ex and don’t know how to move on? And how do you know when it’s time to let go and look for love somewhere else?
If you’re “the other woman” who’s waiting for a man to leave his lover, don’t waste your time. “If he’ll do it with you, he’ll do it to you,”. The man you want lacks integrity and can’t make a commitment.
Are your standards too low? “What is it about you that causes you to settle for somebody that you know will cheat on you, know will lie to you, know will make a commitment and then break it? What is it about you that you believe about yourself that you’re willing to settle for that?” Recognize that you’re settling and that you deserve more. Set a higher standard for yourself.
Does he really even make you happy? Be honest with yourself about the extent to which he’s really meeting your needs. Chances are you’re longing for the relationship that you wish it could be, and that you want to be in love with the person you wish he was. “There are times when you break up with somebody and you start missing them and you start thinking about all the good things. And then you’re back with them for about 10 minutes and you go ‘Oh yeah! Now I remember why I hate you!’” Don’t kid yourself about what it was really like or glorify the past.
Don’t wait around because you think he’s going to change. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, so the chance that he’s going to ride in on his white horse and do the right thing is pretty slim. “To the extent that there’s some history, you don’t have to speculate, you just have to measure.”
Don’t put your life on hold. Every minute you spend focusing on your ex is a minute that’s holding you back from a better future. “As long you are obsessed on this guy, you will never put your heart, soul and mind into getting your life in order and starting another relationship if you want one.” Set some goals and start putting your life back together.
Ask yourself: Are you hiding in the relationship so you don’t have to face the reality of being on your own? Don’t stay with someone because it’s comfortable and safe. It may seem more secure, but it’s not healthy for you and it certainly won’t help you get to a better place. Why would you want to settle and waste your life away just to avoid getting back in the game?
Be clear with him. “You’ve got to say not just ‘no,’ but ‘hell no,'”. “‘Get out of my life. Stay away from me. Don’t call me.'” If you live together, it’s time to move out, or you may need to change your phone number. “Do what you have to do.” If the circumstances are more complicated or severe, you may need to get a lawyer in order to get child support or to hold him accountable for any other outstanding issues.
Don’t hold all men responsible for the mistake your ex made. Why should he pay for the sins of someone else who may have wronged you?
Learn to trust again — by trusting yourself. It tells a man who’s having a hard time letting women back into his life: “Trust is not about how much you trust one person or another to do right or wrong. How much you trust another person is a function of how much you trust yourself to be strong enough to deal with their imperfections.” Have enough faith in yourself to be able to put yourself on the line with someone, without any guarantee of what will happen next. If you’re playing the game with sweaty palms, it’s because you’re afraid of what you can or can’t do, or dealing with your own imperfections — it’s not about the other person.
Know that you will get hurt if you’re in a relationship. There is no perfect person without flaws. Even a well-intended guy is going to hurt his partner. He’s going to hurt your feelings. He’s going to say things that you don’t want him to say. He’s going to do things you wish he wouldn’t do and not do things you wish he would do. A relationship is an imperfect union between two willing spirits who say, ”I’d rather be in a relationship and share my life, share my joys, share my fun, share my activities, share my life than do it alone.” If you want to be in a relationship, know that getting hurt comes with the territory. You just have to decide that you are durable enough, that you have enough confidence in yourself that you can handle it.
Don’t invest more than you can afford to lose. While it’s important to move forward, you need to take things one step at a time. Don’t put so much out there that you’ll be emotionally bankrupt if things go south.
Don’t beat yourself up. You got through your last experience, you’ve learned from it, and now it’s time to move forward. “You’ll move on and be a champion in your next endeavor as you did in your past … Life is not a success-only journey. You are going to get beat up along the way.”
Focus on yourself. All of us come into relationships with baggage, but you need to have closure on past experiences before you can start a new relationship with the odds in your favor. “Unless and until you’ve figured out everything you’ve got to figure out about that and you get closure, you will never come into a relationship with a fresh and clean heart and mind and expectancy and attitude.” You’re probably not ready to get into another relationship until you heal the wounds of your past.
Listen to what he’s saying. If he’s telling you that you want different things out of life and there’s no way you can work as a couple, don’t turn his words around into what you want to hear. He’s being quite clear.
Know the statistics. “There’s a 50/50 chance a marriage is going to work if both people are head over heels in love, passionate and willing to climb the mountain, swim the river and slay the dragon to get to each other. That’s with everybody crazy in love and running toward each other in that field that we see in the commercials. The problem you’ve got here is he’s running the other way in the field! So if it’s 50/50 when you’re running toward each other, what do you think it is when the other person is running out of the field and hiding in the woods?”
Health and Wellness Associates
Dr. M Williams
How to Navigate A Stressful Relationship with a Sibling
Parents have a huge effect on the people their children become. But there’s another family dynamic that can influence us just as much, if not more: the one with our siblings. Relationships with brothers and sisters usually continue long after our parents are gone, and they affect us at every stage of life.
Never is this more evident than when we struggle with an adult sibling. It is normal for brothers and sisters to compete with each other as kids, and even fight; parents often assume we’ll grow out of it, and many of us do. Yet simmering resentments about family roles or parental favoritism can persist over time and cause real pain and rivalry.
We may also find ourselves at odds with a sibling over core values — like political or religious views, or how to best raise our kids — and these differences can intensify routine disagreements.
As intractable as sibling conflicts can seem, they don’t need to be permanent, says psychotherapist Jeanne Safer, PhD. Adjusting our perceptions and taking a few simple actions can help build the best possible bonds with our challenging brothers and sisters, even if the relationships might never be perfect.
CHALLENGES TO OVERCOME
Idealizing sibling relationships. “We have this idea that these relationships are, or should be, wholly positive,” says Safer, “and we use them as metaphors for very high ideals: Sisterhood is powerful. All men are brothers. It can be hard to live up to the idealizations.”
Parental favoritism. Safer says parental favoritism plays a prominent role in nearly all sibling conflicts — and it has its roots in a parent’s experience with his or her own siblings. “If a parent is the youngest of three children, and has three children, she is probably going to favor the youngest child, seeing herself there unconsciously,” she explains.
Denial. Believing you’ve outgrown any childhood rivalry with your sibling, or that you should have, makes it hard to address underlying resentments.
Differing destinies. If one sibling has a more successful career, is luckier in love, or has an easier time having or raising children, this can sustain resentments developed in childhood, Safer says. She cites the case of a physician who was a failed musician. The doctor envied her less-affluent sister, who played the piano beautifully.
Opposing values. You may be a lifelong Democrat and your sister a staunch Republican, or you may let your kids roam free while your brother keeps his on a short leash. If these differences create tension, Safer believes it indicates historical factors are at play. “These differences in values can usually be handled if the underlying issues are addressed,” she says.
Divergent memories. We might be angry at siblings who don’t share our views of the family system, but Safer believes that our memories and experiences are inevitably different. “You and your siblings have the same biological parents but live in different ‘psychological families’ because of the different roles you play,” she says.
Parental interference. When conflict erupts between siblings, parents often push for immediate reconciliation, Safer notes. “This very often means that the higher-functioning sibling is supposed to suck it up and tolerate anything that the lower-functioning one does.”
STRATEGIES FOR SUCCESS
Take the initiative. “If you’re waiting for your sibling to address the issues between you, you may have to wait a very long time,” says Safer. “Get the ball rolling by reaching out yourself.”
Remember the good things. If you’re preparing to address a conflict with your sibling, Safer suggests a positive focus. Recall times when he or she was kind to you, stood up for you, helped you with something. “In your conversation, bring it up and thank him or her.”
Ask your sibling about his or her experience. Ask how he or she felt in your family — and be open to the explanation. Don’t expect it to match your own. Safer suggests this type of approach: “I really want to make things better between us, and I think that starts with our childhood. What was your experience of our parents?”
Address difficulties directly. Don’t let a casual “Mom likes you best” or “I always have to take care of everything” pass without a sincere response, Safer says. Ask if the two of you can talk about it. Explain that you want to connect and get beyond your roles.
Listen nondefensively. “You need to do a lot of listening,” says Safer. “And you need to listen particularly carefully to what the sibling has to say about the person you least want to hear about — yourself.”
Offer your services. Your sibling may respond better to what you do than what you say, especially if he or she is less inclined to ask for help, Safer notes. Offer to watch the kids, do some cooking, run errands. This allows you to show your implicit regard for him or her, which can help build trust.
Settle for modest improvements. Sibling struggles are deeply rooted, and they don’t always change for the better immediately — or completely. Your sibling might disagree that your issues stem from early family life, and he or she may not be ready for change. “But trying counts,” says Safer. “If you can go from being so estranged that you can’t stand to be together to being able to be decent to each other, that’s big progress.”
Please contact us with any of your concerns.
Health and Wellness Associates
Archived J Spayde
Are You In A Rut?
Some routines are helpful — others hold you back. Shake things up with a new design so you can move in a healthier direction.
Have you ever felt like you were in a rut? Of course, you have! We all have.
Feeling stuck in your day-to-day routine is a universal experience. It’s also a byproduct of your highly efficient brain. After all, with an estimated 11 million sensory inputs to process each second, your brain would be unnecessarily taxed if it had to relearn how to shower and tie your shoes each day. Instead, its myelinated neural networks allow routine behaviors to become default behaviors
So if what you’re doing is working for you — even remotely — you tend to stick with it. Default behavior can be constructive (brushing and flossing daily) or unconstructive (downing a few cocktails nightly). Ruts may manifest as lack of action, as well: Maybe you keep your head down at work, never taking on projects outside your comfort zone. Or you stay in an unhealthy relationship for years, avoiding conflict and change.
Biologists have observed that animals in nature will take the same paths and escape routes through their territories over and over — often falling victim to predators who exploit this predictability. What if some of your ruts are ill-conceived escape routes — patterns of action or thought that keep you from dealing with problems, rising to challenges, or tending to relationships?
And what if these ruts have negative consequences? Wolves may not eat you, but your partner, boss, or friends may let you know that your default behavior is causing problems.
AN ANTIDOTE TO RUTS
In his research with animals, Jaak Panksepp, PhD, professor of integrative physiology and neuroscience at Washington State University, identified seven core neural networks of emotion, the strongest of which he defined as “seeking,” or the desire to discover. This emotion compels an animal to find a mate, forage for food, and learn new parts of its habitat, all of which are essential for survival.
Just like any other animal, humans are drawn to discover. Using fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging), researchers have found that a region in the midbrain called the substantia nigra/ventral tegmental area, or SN/VTA, is activated when a person is exposed to novel stimuli. We are hardwired to notice and gravitate toward the new — new people, new house, new job, new vacation destination.
When we combine a neurological tendency to automate routine behavior with a biological drive to seek, it makes sense that we check our phones some 85 times per day. In fact, the act of seeking — more than actually discovering — really lights up our brains. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with motivation and reward, spikes in anticipation of discovery.
That seeking behavior manifests in many ways — some beneficial, some benign, some problematic. If you’ve ever spent too much money shopping for things you didn’t really need, you know that seeking is often more satisfying than what you ultimately find, learn, or buy. You can even get addicted to seeking, which may be distracting but does nothing to release you from (or provide insight into) your ruts.
Instead, why not use the principles of design thinking to break out of your ruts? Why not design a beneficial seeking behavior — a quest — that allows you to seek in deeper and more meaningful ways?
DESIGN YOUR QUEST
For the past 20 years, I have embarked on an annual solo quest to help myself climb out of my ruts. For five days, I camp in a remote wilderness area where I fast and meditate in order to wake up my mind. Isolation removes the distractions of conversation and social obligation. Fasting eliminates the distractions of planning, cooking, and eating food. (Thinking about food, however, is another story!)
These days of focused meditation allow my mind to quiet itself from the emailing, texting, and rumination it’s usually engaged in. Eventually I drop into a deep silence where I can gain insights into the nature of my ruts — and the changes I need to make to get out of them. During one quest I came to understand that it was time to move on from a job I loved. While I felt passionate about the work, I had become complacent in many ways and had developed some bad habits.
Solitude and time in nature helped me see that, if I wanted to grow, I needed to release that job — a realization I may not otherwise have had until years later.
I believe there is a quest for everyone. You don’t have to venture into the wilderness to gain insight into your ruts and the changes you may need to make.
Remember, you are the designer of your life — so think like a designer! What types of experiences will really get your attention and break you out of your daily routine? How will you eliminate distractions so you can gain insight into your habits of thought and behavior?
The real adventure lies within you. Do you dare seek it?
Health and Wellness Associates
5 Ways to Survive Your Next Family Gathering
In the Uncle Remus story of the tar baby, Brer Rabbit picks a fight with a lifelike doll made out of tar and turpentine. The tar baby is so gluey that when the rabbit punches it, his fists get hopelessly stuck. He tries to kick his way free, trapping his feet, then finishes off with an infuriated head butt that renders him utterly helpless.
I can’t think of a more fitting metaphor for family life in the 21st century. There’s nothing in the world as sticky as a dysfunctional family. You can put half your life’s savings into therapy—good therapy, effective therapy—and, 15 minutes into a holiday reunion, you still become hopelessly enmeshed in the same old crazy dynamics. Your assertiveness training goes out the window the minute your brother begins his traditional temper tantrum. A mere sigh from your grandmother triggers an attack of codependency so severe you end up giving her your house. For many people, family get-togethers require strategies for staying out of such sticky situations. Before you head over the river and through the woods, give some thought to the following suggestions.
Strategy #1: Give Up Hope
Most of us go home for the holidays thinking (along with comedienne Abby Sher), God, grant me the ability to change the things I cannot accept. Even if we don’t consciously realize it, we want our families to cease and desist from all the things that affect us like fingernails on a chalkboard. We don’t ask much—just socially appropriate behavior, dammit, and minimal reparations for the more damaging incidents in our past. Although come to think of it, things would certainly go better if our relatives would listen openly, communicate honestly, and agree with us on all significant issues. And possibly offer money.
The hope that our families will act perfectly—or even reasonably well—sets us up to whack the tar baby, to be incapacitated by the dysfunctions we’ll almost certainly encounter. Before you meet your relatives this season, take a few moments to sit quietly and acknowledge what you wish they were like. Then prepare to accept them even if they behave as they have always done in the past. At best you may be surprised to find that they actually are changing, that some of your wishes have come true. At worst you’ll feel regrettably detached from your kinfolk as you watch them play out their usual psychoses.
Strategy #2: Set Secure Boundaries
Given that your family members will probably go on being their same old selves, you need to decide how much contact with them you really want. Are there certain relatives you simply can’t tolerate? Are there others you can handle in group settings but not one-on-one? How much time and intimacy with your family is enough? How much is too much?
It’s crucial to answer these questions before, not during, a family gathering. Prior to the event, think through various boundary options until you come up with a scenario that makes you feel comfortable. Would you be more enthusiastic about a get-together if you planned to leave after no more than four hours? Or three? Two? One? Would you breathe easier if you rented a car so that you could get away without relying on relatives for transportation? Would it help to have a friend call you on your cell phone halfway through the evening, providing an excuse for a graceful exit?
Strategy #3: Lose Control
You’re in the middle of a holiday feast, enjoying your favorite pie and eggnog, when your mother leans over and whispers, “Honey, have you tried Weight Watchers?” Those six words may wither your very soul, challenging every ounce of self-acceptance you’ve gleaned from myriad self-help books, support groups, and several enlightened friends. You might feel desperate to make Mom recognize all the hard-won truths you’ve learned about the intrinsic value and beauty of your body. You’ll want to argue, to explain, to get right in there and force your mother to approve of your appearance. You are coming perilously close to whacking the tar baby.
Remember this: Any attempt you make to control other people actually puts you under their control. If you decide you can’t be happy until your mother finally understands you, her dysfunction will rule your life. You could spend the next 20 years trying to please her so much that she’d just have to accept you—and she still might not. Or you could hold her at gunpoint and threaten her into saying the words you want to hear, but you’ll never control her real thoughts and feelings. Never.
The only way you can avoid getting stuck in other people’s craziness is to follow codependency author Melody Beattie’s counterintuitive advice: “Unhook from their systems by refusing to try to control them.” Don’t violate your own code of values and ethics, but don’t waste energy trying to make other people violate theirs. If soul-searching has shown you that your mother’s opinions are wrong for you—as are your grandfather’s bigotry, your sister’s new religion, and your cousin’s alcoholism—hold that truth in your heart, whether or not your family members validate it. Feel what you feel, know what you know, and set your relatives free to do the same.
If you’ve been deeply wounded by your family, you can stop trying to control them by accepting full responsibility for your healing. I’m not suggesting you shoulder all the blame, but rather that you acknowledge that you and only you have the ability to respond to injury by seeking cures instead of furthering pain. Whatever the situation, accepting that you can control only your own thoughts and actions will help you mend more quickly and thoroughly.
Strategy #4: Become a Participant Observer
Some social scientists use a technique called participant observation, meaning that they join groups of people in order to watch and report on whatever those people do. Back when I was training to become a sociologist, I loved participant observation. People I might normally have avoided—criminals, fundamentalists, PTA presidents—became absolutely fascinating when I was participant-observing them. Almost any group activity is interesting when you’re planning to describe it later to someone who’s on your wavelength. Here are some approaches to help you become a participant observer of your own family.
Queen for a Day
This little game is based on the old TV show in which four women competed to see who had the most miserable life. The contestant judged most pathetic got, among other things, a washing machine in which to cleanse her tear-stained clothing. My version goes like this: Prior to a family function, arrange to meet with at least two friends—more, if possible—after the holidays. You’ll each tell the stories of your respective family get-togethers, then vote to see whose experience was most horrendous. That person will then be crowned queen, and the others will buy her lunch.
In this exercise, you look to your family not for love and understanding but for comedy material. Watch closely. The more atrocious your family’s behavior is, the funnier it can be in the retelling. Watch stand-up comics to see the enormous fun they can have describing appalling marriages, ghastly parenting, or poisonous family secrets. When you’re back among friends, telling your own wild stories, you may find that you no longer suffer from your family’s brand of insanity; you’ve actually started to enjoy it.
Dysfunctional Family Bingo
This is one of my favorite games, though it involves considerable preparation. A few weeks before the holidays, gather with friends and provide each person with a bingo card, like the one on page 93, only blank. Each player fills in her bingo squares with dysfunctional phrases or actions that are likely to surface at her particular family party. For example, if you dread the inevitable “So when are you going to get married?” that question goes in one square of your bingo card. If your brother typically shows up crocked to the gills, put “Al is drunk” in another square, and so on.
Take your finished cards to your respective family gatherings. Whenever you observe something that appears on your bingo card, mark off that square. The first person to get bingo must sneak off to the nearest telephone, call the other players, and announce her victory. If no one has a full bingo, the person who has the largest number of filled-out squares wins the game. The winner shall be determined at the postholiday meeting, where she will be granted the ever gratifying free lunch.
Strategy #5: Debrief
Even if you don’t play any participant observation games, it’s crucial to follow up on family events by debriefing with someone you love. If your brother really “gets” you, call him after a family dinner you’ve both survived. If you don’t trust anyone who shares a shred of your DNA, report to a friend or therapist. Generally speaking, you can schedule a debriefing session for a few weeks after the holidays, when everybody’s schedule is back to normal. However, you should exchange phone calls with your debriefing partners within a day or so of the family encounter, just to reconnect with the outside world and head off any annoying little problems, such as ill-considered suicide.
All of these strategies, from relinquishing hope of transformation to mimicking your relatives in riotous conversations with your friends, are designed to help you love your family unconditionally, in whatever way works best for you. They help you greet the tar baby with genuine affection, then walk away clear and happy. And that, in the end, may be the best holiday present you’ll ever give to the people you cherish most.
Please share with family and friends
Health and Wellness Associates
Five Tips to Get More Satisfaction and Joy Out of Life
We all want to be happy. The right to pursue happiness is even written into our country’s bill of rights. But how does one do that? Is it even possible to become a happier person? And if so, what’s the best way to go about it? Researchers in the field of positive psychology have been studying these questions and the answers are encouraging. Turns out you can genuinely increase your happiness and overall satisfaction with life—and it doesn’t require a winning lottery ticket or some other drastic change of circumstances. What it takes is an inner change of perspective and attitude. And that’s truly good news, because it’s something that anyone can do.
What won’t make you happy
Do you, like many people, have a mental list of things you think you need in order to be truly happy? There are many externals our society teaches us to chase: success, wealth, fame, power, good looks, romantic love. But are they really the key to happiness?
The research says no, at least when it comes to long-term happiness. A prestigious award, a big raise, an exciting new relationship, a fancy new car, losing weight. These things can make us feel great at first, but the thrill doesn’t last very long. Human beings are quick to adapt to new circumstances—a quality that has helped us survive and thrive. But it also means that the good things that initially make us happier soon become our new normal and we return to our old happiness baseline.
Myths and facts about happiness
There are a lot of myths out there about what will make you happy. So before we embark on a tour of the strategies that do work for boosting happiness, let’s dispense with the things that don’t.
Myth: Money will make you happy.
Fact: It’s stressful when you’re worried about money. In order to be happy, you do need enough of it to cover your basic needs: things like food, shelter, and clothing. But once you have enough money to be comfortable, getting more money isn’t going to make much of a difference in how happy you are. For example, studies of lottery winners show that after a relatively short period of time, they are no more happy than they were before their win.
Myth: You need a relationship in order to be happy.
Fact: Being in a healthy, supportive love relationship does contribute to happiness, but it’s not true that you can’t be happy and fulfilled if you’re single. Indeed, singles who have meaningful friendships and pursuits are happier than people in mismatched romantic relationships. It’s also important to note that even a good marriage or romantic partnership doesn’t lead to a permanent, intense happiness boost. Expecting your partner to deliver your happily-ever-after may actually harm the relationship in the long-run. You—not your partner or your family members—are responsible for your own happiness.
Myth: Happiness declines with age.
Fact: Contrary to popular belief, people tend to get happier with age. Study after study confirms that seniors experience more positive emotions and fewer (and less intense) negative emotions than young people and middle-aged adults. As a whole, older adults are also more satisfied with their lives, less sensitive to stress, and more emotionally stable. Even with the losses that come with age, it is the happiest time of life for many people.
Myth: Some people are just happier than others and there’s nothing you can do to change that.
Fact: Genetics do play a role in happiness. Current research suggests that people are born with a certain happiness “set point.” But that only accounts for about half of our happiness level. Another 10% is due to life circumstances. That leaves 40% that is determined by your actions and choices. That’s a lot of control!
Tip 1: Train your brain to be more positive
Our brains are wired to notice and remember the things that are wrong. It’s a survival mechanism that helped keep our cave-dwelling ancestors safe in a world where there were many physical threats. But in today’s comparatively safe world, this biological predisposition to focus on the negative contributes to stress and unhappiness.
While we can’t change our nature, we can train our brains to be more positive. This doesn’t mean putting on a smiley face and whistling a happy tune no matter what’s going on. You don’t have to ignore reality or pretend things are wonderful even when they’re not. But just as dwelling on negative things fuels unhappiness (and plays a big role in depression and anxiety), choosing to notice, appreciate, and anticipate goodness is a powerful happiness booster.
Teaching yourself to become more grateful can make a huge difference in your overall happiness. The research shows that gratitude helps you experience more positive emotions, decrease depression, feel better about yourself, improve your relationships, and strengthen your immune system. A recent study revealed that gratitude even makes you smarter about how you spend your money.
There are a number of simple exercises you can take advantage of to increase and cultivate an attitude of gratitude.
Give sincere thanks to others. When someone goes above and beyond or does something to make your day easier, be quick to verbalize your thanks and appreciation. Not only will it make the person feel good, it will give you a happiness lift, too. It’s an instant reward to see how expressing gratitude makes a positive difference in someone else’s day. It makes you realize that we’re all connected and that what you do matters.
Keep a gratitude journal. It may sound cheesy, but writing down the good things that happened to you during the day really works. Research shows that keeping a gratitude journals is a powerful technique that instantly makes you feel happier, more connected to others, and genuinely appreciative.
Count your blessings. Make it a habit to regularly reflect on the things you have to be thankful for. Bring to mind all the good people, experiences, and things in your life, both now and in the past. Focus on the blessings both big and small, from the people who love you to the roof over your head and the food on your table. You will soon see it’s a pretty long list.
Write a letter of gratitude. Think of someone who did something that changed your life for the better who you never properly thanked. Write a thoughtful letter of gratitude expressing what the person did, how it affected you, and what it still means to you. Then deliver the letter. Positive psychology expert Martin Seligman recommends reading the letter in person for the most dramatic increase in happiness.
Find the positive in a negative event from your past. Even the most painful circumstances can teach us positive lessons. Reevaluate a negative event from your past with an eye for what you learned or how you became stronger, wiser, or more compassionate. When you can find meaning in even the bad things you’ve experienced, you will be happier and more grateful.
Tip 2: Nurture and enjoy your relationships
Relationships are one of the biggest sources of happiness in our lives. Studies that look at happy people bear this out. The happier the person, the more likely that he or she has a large, supportive circle of family and friends, a fulfilling marriage, and a thriving social life.
That’s why nurturing your relationships is one of the best emotional investments you can make. If you make an effort to cultivate and build your connections with others, you will soon reap the rewards of more positive emotions. And as you become happier, you will attract more people and higher-quality relationships, leading to even greater positivity and enjoyment. It’s the happiness gift that keeps on giving.
Make a conscious effort to stay connected. In our busy society, it’s easy to get caught up in our responsibilities and neglect our relationships. But losing touch with friends is one of the most common end-of-life regrets. Don’t let it happen to you. Make an effort to stay connected to the people who make your life brighter. Take the time to call, write, or see each other in person. You’ll be happier for it.
Invest in quality time with the people you care about. It’s not just the time spent with friends and family that matters; it’s how you spend it. Mindlessly vegging out together in front of the TV isn’t going to make you closer. People who are in happy relationships talk a lot. They share what’s going on in their lives and how they feel. Follow their example and carve out time to talk and enjoy each other’s company.
Offer sincere compliments. Think of the things you admire and appreciate about the other person and then tell them. This will not only make the other person happier, it will encourage him or her to be an even better friend or partner. As a practice of gratitude, it will also make you value the relationship more and feel happier.
Seek out happy people. Research shows that happiness is contagious. You can literally catch a good mood (you can also catch a bad mood, but thankfully, sadness is less contagious than happiness). So make an effort to seek out and spend time with happy people. Before you know it, you’ll be feeling the happiness, too.
Take delight in the good fortune of others. One of the things that truly separate healthy, fulfilling relationships from the rest are how the partners respond to each other’s good fortune and success. Do you show genuine enthusiasm and interest when your friend or family member experiences something good? Or do you ignore, criticize, or downplay the achievement, feel envious or threatened, or say a quick, “That’s great,” and then move on? If you’d like closer relationships, pay attention when the other person is excited. Ask questions, relive the experience with the other person, and express your excitement for him or her. Remember, happiness is contagious, so as you share the experience, their joy will become yours.
Tip 3: Live in the moment and savor life’s pleasures
Think about a time when you were depressed or anxious. Chances are, you were either dwelling on something negative from the past or worrying about something in the future. In contrast, when you focus on the present moment, you are much more likely to feel centered, happy, and at peace. You’re also much more likely to notice the good things that are happening, rather than letting them pass by unappreciated or unobserved. So how do you start to live more in the moment and savor the good things life has to offer?
Mindfulness meditation is a powerful technique for learning to live in and enjoy the moment. And you don’t have to be religious or even spiritual to reap its benefits. No pan flutes, chanting, or yoga pants required.
Simply speaking, meditation is exercise for your brain. When practiced regularly, meditation appears to decrease activity in the areas of the brain associated with negative thoughts, anxiety, and depression. At the same time, it increases activity in the areas associated with joy, contentment, and peace. It also strengthens areas of the brain in charge of managing emotions and controlling attention. What’s more, being mindful makes you more fully engaged in the here-and-now and more aware and appreciate of good things.
Here are a few mindfulness exercises that can help you get started:
Body scan – Body scanning cultivates mindfulness by focusing your attention on various parts of your body. Like progressive muscle relaxation, you start with your feet and work your way up. However, instead of tensing and relaxing your muscles, you simply focus on the way each part of your body feels without labeling the sensations as either “good” or “bad”.
Walking meditation – You don’t have to be seated or still to meditate. In walking meditation, mindfulness involves being focused on the physicality of each step — the sensation of your feet touching the ground, the rhythm of your breath while moving, and feeling the wind against your face.
Mindful eating – If you reach for food when you’re under stress or gulp your meals down in a rush, try eating mindfully. Sit down at the table and focus your full attention on the meal (no TV, newspapers, or eating on the run). Eat slowly, taking the time to fully enjoy and concentrate on each bite.
Notice and savor small pleasures
If you adopt a mindfulness meditation practice, you will automatically begin to notice and savor life’s pleasures more. But there are other things you can do to increase your awareness and enjoyment.
Adopt enjoyable daily rituals. Build moments of enjoyment into your day with pleasurable rituals. These can be very simple things like lingering over a cup of coffee in the morning, taking a short stroll in the sunshine during your lunch hour, or playing with your dog when you get home. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you enjoy and appreciate it.
Minimize multi-tasking. Savoring requires your full attention, which is impossible when you’re trying to do multiple things. For example, if you’re eating a delicious meal while distractedly surfing the Internet, you’re not going to get as much pleasure out of the food as you could have. Focus on one thing at a time in order to truly maximize your enjoyment.
Stop to smell the roses. It may be an old cliché, but it’s good advice. You’ll appreciate good things more if you stop whatever you’re doing for a moment to appreciate and luxuriate in them. It will enhance your pleasure, even if you can only spare a few seconds. And if you can share the moment with others, even better. Shared pleasure is powerful.
Replay happy memories. You don’t have to limit your savoring to things that are happening now. Remembering and reminiscing about happy memories and experiences from your past leads to more positive emotions in the present.
Tip 4: Focus on helping others and living with meaning
There is something truly fulfilling in helping others and feeling like your actions are making a difference for the better in the world. That’s why people who assist those in need and give back to others and their communities tend to be happier. In addition, they also tend to have higher self-esteem and general psychological well-being.
Here are some ways to live a more altruistic, meaningful life:
Volunteer. Happiness is just one of the many benefits of volunteering. You’ll get the most out of the experience by volunteering for an organization that you believe in and that allows you to contribute in a meaningful way.
Practice kindness. Look for ways to be more kind, compassionate, and giving in your daily life. This can be something as small as brightening a stranger’s day with a smile or going out of your way to do a favor for a friend.
Play to your strengths. The happiest people know what their unique strengths are and build their lives around activities that allow them to use those strengths for the greater good. There are many different kinds of strengths, including kindness, curiosity, honesty, creativity, love of learning, perseverance, loyalty, optimism, and humor.
Go for the flow. Research shows that flow, a state of complete immersion and engagement in an activity, is closely associated with happiness. Flow happens when you’re actively engaged in something that is intrinsically rewarding and challenging yet still attainable. Anything that completely captivates you and engages your full attention can be a flow activity.
Tip 5: Take better care of your health
You can be happy even when you’re suffering from illness or bad health, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore the aspects of your health that are in your control. Exercise and sleep are particularly important when it comes to happiness.
Make exercise a regular habit
Exercise isn’t just good for the body. It also has a powerful effect on mental well-being. People who exercise regularly are happier across the board. Plus, they’re also less stressed, angry, anxious, and depressed.
It doesn’t really matter what kind of exercise you do, so long as you do it regularly. For best results, aim for an hour of exercise at least five days a week. If you find something you enjoy, you’ll be more likely to stick to it. So don’t think you’re limited to going to the gym or strapping on jogging shoes. Find something that suits your lifestyle and preferences. It could be taking a dance class, shooting hoops, walking in nature, joining a community sports league, playing tennis, running with your dog, swimming laps at the pool, hiking, biking, or doing yoga in the park. If you’re having trouble thinking of activities you enjoy, think back to when you were a kid. What sports or games did you like to play?
Get the sleep you need
Getting quality sleep every night directly affects your happiness, vitality, and emotional stability during the day. When you’re sleep deprived, you’re much more susceptible to stress. It’s harder to be productive, think creatively, and make wise decisions. How much sleep do you need? According to sleep scientists, the average person needs at least 7.5 – 9 hours each night.
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In relationships, just as in every other aspect of life, the spirit and attitude with which you do things is at least as important as your actual actions. Embrace and incorporate these powerful values, and you will start living with more integrity, honesty, compassion and enthusiasm. This, in turn, will breathe new life into your relationship.
1. Own your own relationship.
You are fully accountable for your relationship. You can never again believe you’re a martyr suffering in your relationship because of an unworthy partner. Only when you stop seeing yourself as a victim will you start to see yourself as a fully competent and potent force in your relationship.
2. Accept the risk of vulnerability.
Do not let fear paralyze your life. Wanting, reaching out and letting yourself hope makes you vulnerable. At least by putting yourself on the line, you have the chance of getting what you want, as opposed to hurting with no chance of getting what you want. Not to venture is to lose yourself.
3. Accept your partner.
If your partner experiences in you the spirit of acceptance, then it is most likely that he/she will find you approachable. Two partners who are moving toward each other, rather than both trying to seek safety from pain, have a dramatically improved chance of reconciliation.
4. Focus on friendship.
You have to take a step back from the problems and pain of your intimate interactions, and focus on your partner’s positive qualities. Turn back the clock and recall what it was that started the friendship that matured into an intimate relationship.
5. Promote your partner’s self-esteem.
You must bring the spirit of acceptance into affirmative, interactive action. Find the courage and creativity to promote and protect your partner’s self-esteem, even when you feel compelled to be critical. By using the value of self-esteem, you provide a much more nurturing atmosphere, one your partner will not want to abandon.
6. Aim your frustrations in the right direction.
Work at sorting out the causes of your frustration, and resist the impulsive temptation to pick at your partner. Once you start seeing that the negative things you perceive in your partner are often things you see in yourself, you will literally alter the nature of your interactions with your partner.
7. Be up front and forthright.
Nothing can be more frustrating than what is referred to as an incongruent communication, where an individual says one thing yet indicates something dramatically different with his or her nonverbal conduct. Strive to express your feelings in a mature and responsible way. By being honest about your emotions, you base your relationship upon integrity rather than lies and deception.
8. Make yourself happy instead of right.
Start evaluating the things you do in your relationship based on whether those thoughts, feelings and actions are working. For example, you don’t have to prove over and over that you know what you’re talking about more than your partner. Instead, choose a different emotion such as tolerance, understanding or compassion that does not escalate hostility in your relationship. By deciding to be happy rather than right, you will be receptive to your partner’s attempts to de-escalate hostility and return to civil interactions.
9. Allow your relationship to transcend turmoil.
Rough times and arguments happen, and one way or another, they are going to impact the relationship. You must vow to no longer use threats as a lever to manipulate and control your partner. By doing so, you’re setting a clear limit on the places a spirited discussion with your partner will not go.
10. Put motion into your emotion.
You must turn the concept of love into a proactive behavior. Don’t be so consumed with negative messages that your expectations are low. You must require yourself and your relationship to truly be better.