The Truth About Happiness

March 31, 2010 by  
Filed under Blog

The feeling of being happy is the ultimate human quest but what does it really mean to be happy?

According to Michael J. Fox,“Your happiness grows in direct proportion to your acceptance, and in inverse proportion to your expectations.”  Now according to Eric Weiner, author of The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World, “the source of our unhappiness is expectations. Greed fulfilled makes us ‘happy’ for awhile, but when our expectations are no longer met, we’re miserable.”  And finally the Merriam-Webster Dictionary says that happiness is a state of well-being and contentment.

When I’m feeling blue I ask myself “if this or that happened would I feel happy?”  When I think about the answer and imagine my life with this or that happening, the answer is almost always “no”.  The knot is coming from some place else and it is then I realize happiness is independent of this and that.  Happiness is how we feel inside our minds and hearts.  So the good news is that while this can be complicated, because it does not have a quick fix, it is 100% dependent on us.  We have within us everything we need to reach a more fulfilling life or as the dictionary says; a state of well-being.

If you don’t believe what I’m saying ask yourself if by meeting he or she the loneliness and depression you sometimes feel would go away completely.  Close your eyes and really give yourself a few minutes to day dream.  I know my answer is: meeting him (in my case) would be lovely but that which sometimes grabs my insides would still be there.

What about earning lots of money? Would that make us happy? Yes and no.  Money can make things easier and more exciting but the knot would still remain once the novelty subsided.

I am not advocating for celibacy and poverty but I’m suggesting we should also peel the layers of the onion. Learning about ourselves and becoming our own best friends help us understand why the knots are there. And once we know, when he or she arrives, or the job, or the money, we can embrace these gifts with delirious gusto.

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Mental Health Problems And Mind-Body Wellness

January 6, 2010 by  
Filed under Featured

Mental health problems are similar to other health problems: some can be prevented, others will go away on their own with home treatment, and some need professional attention.
Mental Self-Care
Many mental health problems begin when physical stress (such as an illness or injury) or emotional stress (such as the loss of a loved one) triggers chemical changes in your brain. The goal of treatment for mental health problems—including self-care and professional treatment—is to reduce stress and restore the normal chemical processes in your brain.

Seeking professional help

In general, it is a good idea to seek professional help for a mental health problem when:

  • A symptom does not get better on its own.
  • A symptom becomes severe or disruptive.
  • A symptom becomes a continuous or permanent pattern of behavior and does not respond to self-care.
  • Symptoms become numerous, affect all areas of your life, and do not respond to self-care or help from family or friends.
  • You are thinking about hurting yourself or someone else.

There is a wide range of professional and community resources to choose from for mental health problems.

Mind-Body Wellness

The mind-body connection

Medical science is making remarkable discoveries about the relationship between your state of mind and your mental and physical health. Researchers have found that one function of the brain is to produce substances that can improve your health. Your brain can create endorphins, which are natural painkillers; gamma globulin for fortifying your immune system; and interferon for combating infections, viruses, and even cancer. Your brain can combine these and other substances into a vast number of tailor-made prescriptions for whatever ails you.

The substances that your brain produces depend in part on your thoughts, feelings, and expectations. If your attitude about an illness (or life in general) is negative and you don’t have expectations that your condition will get better, your brain may not produce enough of the substances your body needs to heal. On the other hand, if your attitude and expectations are more positive, your brain is likely to produce sufficient amounts of the substances that will boost your body’s healing power.

Your physical health also has an impact on your brain’s ability to produce substances that affect your mental well-being. An illness or injury that causes long-term physical stress can lead to chemical imbalances in the brain. These imbalances may lead to depression and other mental health problems.

Positive Thinking
People with positive attitudes generally enjoy life more, but are they any healthier? The answer is often “yes.” Optimism is a resource for healing. Optimists are more likely to overcome pain and adversity in their efforts to improve their medical treatment outcomes. For example, optimistic coronary bypass patients generally recover more quickly and have fewer complications after surgery than do patients who are less hopeful.1, 2

Your body responds to your thoughts, emotions, and actions. In addition to staying fit, eating right, and managing stress, you can use the following three strategies to help maintain your health:

1. Create positive expectations for health and healing.

Mental and emotional expectations can influence medical outcomes. The effectiveness of any medical treatment depends in part on how useful you expect it to be. The “placebo effect” proves this. A placebo is a drug or treatment that provides no medical benefit except for the patient’s belief that it will help. Many patients who receive placebos report satisfactory relief from their medical problem, even though they received no actual medicine.

Changing your expectations from negative to positive may enhance your physical health. Here’s how to make the change:

  • Stop all negative self-talk. Make positive statements that promote your recovery.
  • Don’t feel guilty. There is no value in feeling guilty about health problems. While there is a lot you can do to reduce your risk for health problems and improve your chances of recovery, some illnesses may develop and persist no matter what you do. Some things just are. Do the best you can.

2. Open yourself to humor, friendship, and love.

Positive emotions boost your health. Fortunately, almost anything that makes you feel good about yourself helps you stay healthy.

  • Laugh. A little humor makes life richer and healthier. Laughter increases creativity, reduces pain, and speeds healing. Keep an emergency laughter kit that contains funny videotapes, jokes, cartoons, and photographs. Put it with your first-aid supplies and keep it well stocked.
  • Seek out friends. Friendships are vital to good health. Close social ties help you recover more quickly from illness and reduce your risk of developing diseases ranging from arthritis to depression.
  • Volunteer. People who volunteer live longer and enjoy life more than those who do not volunteer. By helping others, we help ourselves.
  • Plant a plant and pet a pet. Plants and pets can be highly therapeutic. When you stroke an animal, your blood pressure goes down and your heart rate slows. Animals and plants help us feel needed.
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A New York Times Article

October 24, 2009 by  
Filed under Blog

A friend of mine recently sent me the below article printed in the New York Times a few months ago.  I’m posting this article here because I found the struggle of this young woman brave and touching.  We all have our demons, acknowledging and facing them is the first step to our own freedom.


July 26, 2009
Columbia

In Pursuit of Happiness

By CARONAE HOWELL

I’m the kind of woman who spends entire days thinking of nothing but birds: woodcocks, goldfinches, kingfishers. I look for loons everywhere I go. Sometimes I find herons in Central Park and they are mysteries. There is one thing in this world that I envy: the hollowness of bird bones. In the three milliseconds of liftoff, a bird separates itself from its problems. The sky is the freest part of the world.

I have always been depressed, and I have always wanted to fly — not to emulate Superman or to travel faster. I want to fly because of the elation. In my dreams I am a butterfly or a fairy or a honeybee. Depression, for me, is when you want to be a bird, but can’t.

There is a specific moment in which I became a woman. It was February — always the worst month with its aching light and its slip-induced bruises. I had been trying to fall asleep for at least four hours. At 3 a.m., I found myself sobbing and shaking and confused, sitting on my metal dorm bed in the bird-with-a-­broken-wing position. I dug my fingernails into my forearms, leaving shell-shaped trenches behind. I have the kind of skin that refuses to heal, just stays eternally raw and mottled.

It was five weeks into my fourth semester. In late January, a freshman hanged himself in my old dorm. I found myself asking, really, how hard is it to suddenly find yourself perched on a sink, rope around your beautiful neck, ready to fly? How hard?

My dad drove through four states to pick me up the next week. On the way home I had tea and ice cream. He asked me if I remembered the time he took too many of his antidepressants. I did not. Nor did I remember my uncle’s suicide (gun to the cerebrum) or my sister’s delicately sliced arms and hips. These were things I had only been told.

The space between my skull and my irises hurts sometimes — hurts like the shatter of a tiny bird that has fallen midflight. And so it was that sour February night that I took the delicate step into the adult world: realizing that I was too depressed to stay at college was realizing I had not only lost my flock; I had fallen from the air entirely.

Michigan has many birds. My favorite might be the wood duck, with its banded neck and flat little wings. When I watch birds take off, I hold my breath. They always make it to the sky.

Every Monday morning at 9 I see my therapist, mug of green tea and honey close at hand. I take new pills now. I have a routine: oatmeal in the morning, Wednesday nights with my father. I tell my therapist about Toni Morrison’s “Song of Solomon.” Who isn’t searching for their people?

I arrange my thoughts. (No, I have never been in love and I am, in fact, afraid of men; I panic in Times Square; I grow attached to almost everyone I meet.)

I have feathers and questions.

I moved to New York City for college in 2007. School did not grow me into an adult, nor did voting for the first time or doing my own banking. These things were not confrontations. How did I arrive at the place where I could look at my disease and say, “Yes, you are here, but I will not let you take the joy out of looking for birds”? I like to think it was New York, or my newfound discipline, but it was a more internal revolution. I acknowledged my traumas: I was not crazy, just damaged. I was molting.

Columbia gave me many new things: a copy of the “Iliad” with a note saying the first six books should be read before orientation, a job in the oral history office, a sense of time management. But without my sanity — without joy — these things had little value. I knew nothing until I knew I was hardly living. Hobbes and Locke and all the philosophers in the world could not matter when each day was insurmountable and burning. In my year and a half at Columbia, I began to learn how to love myself.

I tell my therapist about my earliest memories and the bizarre geography of my family. I’m anxious and I have no self-esteem. But I am mending. Fifteen lost credits is a small price to pay for happiness. Perhaps I am learning how to fly. My bones may not be hollow, and joy will never come easily, but the beauty is in the struggle. The birds are everywhere.

Caronae Howell, Columbia, class of 2011, history major

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