These days I have fascinated by researching happiness. You may be wondering, well have you BEEN happy? The answer is yes, at times and less so at others. Why you ask is a person who has lots of free time in the summer not happy…well my answer is I am human and at times can worry about the sky falling even when it is sunny out. I know crazy, but that’s me. This is why I do yoga and meditate and eat healthy, so I can stay sane. I am intrigued by what makes people happy? And the subject of this post is…Does turning the frown upside down thing really work? Can you actually make yourself happy even when you are not? In the therapy world we sometimes use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to help people make this shift. CBT skills are about shifting the connection between thoughts and feelings. At times, the cynical side of me has thought that it seems a bit trite to think that you can change how you feel by simply changing your thoughts. But research, both objective and subjective does show this to be true. While it has merit, there’s this nagging feeling that true happiness is deeper than changing a facial expression.
In the “Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin discusses happiness from every angle. Most recently I was reading a section where she talks about thinking your way into happiness. She also talked about how happiness takes energy and discipline. That it takes effort. Bingo, I think she just hit the nail on the head. That’s the missing piece for me. Think about times when you have stuck in your own unhappiness. There may be things that you know you could do to make yourself feel better but you don’t do them. Instead you sit in your own….poo so to speak and wallow. This brings on more negativity which brings on negative behaviors which reinforce your negative feelings which bring on more negative thoughts and so on. It’s a hamster in a wheel going round and round with no way of stopping. This simple statement encapsulated my issue with the whole thinking yourself into a happy place. You must take ACTION! Yes, that is what shifts a person from unhappy to happy. Why is this you say? I say because it’s not just your thoughts that are stuck but it is your energy. You can think “everything will be alright. I am safe, my needs are being met, everything is OK” but if your body is telling you differently, well….your screwed:) Right? You need to shift more than just your thoughts, you need to physically shift the energy in your body in order for things to change.
In the physical fitness world it is known that muscles have memory. When you move a muscle a memory is encoded. When you People in the yoga community and some in the field of psychology know that the fascia (connective tissue between muscle and bone) holds memory as well. The Trauma Center of Brookline has done research on yoga for trauma survivors. They discuss extensively how yoga helps access traumatic memory that the mind simply can not. This information helps us understand on a deep level that if we don’t move our bodies we have no hope of ever really truly creating a change in our moods. We can dress up our thoughts but if we keep the old energy lingering it will stay trapped in the body and we will return to being miserable. Energy can be shifted by walking, cleaning, going to the gym or yoga (one of my favs.) Yoga is a mind/body form of exercise as it moves the spinal cord which is where the nervous system resides. Using mindful movement and breath will activate the relaxation response in the body through the para-sympathetic nervous system. We can also shift our diet to boost serotonin which is the neurotransmitter located primarily in the gut responsible for feelings of wellness and good. Tryptophan boosts serotonin and can be found in foods such as nuts, sunflower and sesame seeds, steroid and antibiotic free meat and poultry, beans, bananas, egg whites, crmini and shitake mushrooms.
So there you have it. Turning the frown upside down helps. Shifting your thoughts to being more positive, definitely but the Full Monty comes when you combine these things with action, mindful movement shifting the energy and eating a serotonin boosting diet. Being happy takes effort, energy, action but no one ever said happiness knocked at their door searching for them. So have a happy and fun day. Spread the love!