In our last chat You and Me with Tea: What Does it Mean to Be Free?: we discussed the glaring issues that are arising in the world today. During a chance meeting with a like minded person recently we discussed the difficulties presented in the field of mental health; one being that we tend to put our focus on all the problems and not much on what is going well. This is exactly what I believe my challenges have been about in my career path; that is until I found positive psychology. This theory changed everything. Never heard of Positive Psych? Check out this cute little YouTube video that tells you all about the theory
Really cool, right? The above trailer is of the movie, Happy, which is a great documentary. The producers of Happy went around the world
interviewing people about their lives and what makes them happy. The interesting thing that they uncovered was that the happiest people were the people who had the least monetarily as well as certain people who had been through intense traumas. In the US we are taught that happiness comes through external means. It is for the wealthy, the physically attractive, popular people who have the luxury to be happy. We are also taught that it comes through acquiring something outside of yourself such as the right job, right romantic partner, house, family, etc. Positive psychology talks about how external circumstances have less to do with happiness than does what is going on within the individual. It takes into account a person’s spiritual connection to themselves and others. I first learned about positive psych through a Harvard Medical School Conference (I know crazy right? but true.) When I first heard about it I was hooked. For those of you who have been a part of our community for a while you may remember. It was all I could chat about. Well it seems high time to begin that discussion again.
Humans are geared towards pleasure it is said. We have this part of our brain in the limbic region that is called the pleasure center. It has what is termed a reward pathway which when triggered releases dopamine (known as the feel good neurotransmitter.) When we get flood with dopamine say after having sex, eating sugar, achieving a goal, coming off an amusement ride, gambling, taking drugs, drinking etc we want more, and more, and more. The circuitry has been turned on much like the Cookie Monster (literally) and we can’t help ourselves. All this to say that we are geared towards pleasure. When we feel good as a species we want to ride that high and attach to it forever and ever. It is often the painful feelings that we want to never occur. I mention this becomes some might say working on increasing happiness is futile because it is fleeting just like every other emotion. It comes and then it goes. Part of the work in becoming more emotionally balanced is not to attach to any certain feeling or situation but instead to learn to ride the wave of life experience. That being said, I truly believe that all to be true, I do at the same time believe that we as a culture can get awfully attached to the things that are not going well. I see it in myself. Lately I have been struggling with not putting energy into the things that are not working out so that I can stay positive and be more drawn towards the light. Even though I see the positive affects, it is fairly challenging at the same time. In this
article by Rick Hanson (author of “Buddha’s Brain”) http://newdimensions.org/changing-your-brain-toward-the-good-with-rick-hanson/
he details how our brain is actually geared towards what he terms “a negative bias.” This means that it takes active work to bring the brain more in line with positive experience. No wonder it can feel SO challenging to be positive at times!
If the brain is geared towards negativity then we need to actively work at bringing it more into balance. At the same time, it is important to
always accept that being happy all the time is not a goal. It is about increasing what is termed in the movie Happy as “Gross National
Happiness.” Increasing your amount of happiness over time is what is key. According to the research, we can increase our level of happiness by having a purpose in life, connecting with nature, having a spiritual connection, having a community of social supports/networks, increasing the amount of play time (yes just like kids adults need to play too!,) doing things for others, listening to your heart, being adaptable to change and enjoying the simple pleasures of life. This all may seem overly simplistic but when we stop to think about it these are the things that make it worth living in the world. The number one thing that they found to be true about happy people is that they are altruistic giving people. They are not afraid to reach out a helping hand because they know that connection is what it is all about. Increasing our level of happiness assists us in being resilient which means that when the bad things happen (and they will) we are more capable
of handling them. People who are more resilient are overall more happy because they don’t take unpleasant experiences personally in life personally.
As we end, how do you increase your level of happiness these days? With all the insanity and uprising going on in the world it can be WAY too easy to focus on the negative. Now more than ever we need to focus in on all the beauty around us and see that we are the master’s of our own ship. No matter what happened to you in the past or what is occurring in the present, YOU have the ability to be happy right here, right now. All you have to do is choose happiness first.