Can You Really Control How Happy You Feel?

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Question: Can You Really Control How Happy You Feel?

“If you want the joy of rainbows – you gotta put up with the rain” Unknown

I have spent my entire life believing you can change how happy you feel at any given moment… I have posted numerous blogs on the subject, tweeted and re-tweeted over a thousand comments, and have written 5 books on living a happy life and improving your wellbeing.

More recently though, I read a series of articles in response to a social media campaign called ‘100 Days of Happiness’ whereby a number of leading Psychologists and Psychiatrists were openly critical of the notion that you could be continuously happy for 100 days. Here’s an excerpt from one article summarizing what many experts from around the world had to say about being continuously happy:

“According to the site (100 Days of Happiness) 71 per cent of people who took it up were unable to complete it, citing time as the main reason. But according to clinical, health and forensic psychologist Dr Bob Montgomery it simply won’t work because it’s an impossible challenge to begin with.

He said, as humans, we can’t ever be happy all of the time because life is full of bad or disappointing moments. “It’s a silly gimmick,” he told news.com.au.

“The reason why 71 per cent of people can’t stick to this is because we can’t be happy 100 per cent of the time. Most people have mixed feelings in any single day and it’s important to accept the good with the bad.”

He added it was impossible to put unhappiness out of your mind when you are told you can’t think about it. “If you want the chance to feel good, you need to accept there’s a risk of feeling bad,” Dr Montgomery said.

Being Happy – What We Can & Can’t Change:

 Firstly The Bad News: What We Can’t Change By Ourselves:

When it comes to feeling happy there are some important factors that we cannot change by ourselves. These are Genetics & Biologically driven mood states. There is no doubt that genetics and our own biological mood state can impair our ability to feel ‘happy’.

Research has clearly shown there is a genetically inherited vulnerability for depression and anxiety disorders in some people and there are a multitude of medical conditions that can interfere with normal hormone levels regulating mood. In addition, there are life stages where our bodies undergo significant changes temporarily lowering our mood. In these cases a very important part of being able to feel ‘happy’ is related to receiving appropriate medical treatment.

BUT… I can tell you from firsthand experience of working with hundreds of people that have the genetic and biological handicaps described above, and who are not yet experiencing the full benefit of medical treatment, that serious and continued effort into managing the Four Elements of their Wellbeing resulted in them being able to experience happy moments despite their mood state or medical conditions – and more importantly prevented any worsening of their condition and maximized their recovery.

 The Good News: What We Can Change by Ourselves

When it comes to feeling happy some of the most important factors are within our control – namely our approach to managing The Four Elements of Wellbeing: Mindsets, Emotions, Lifestyle and Purpose.

1. Mindsets & Feeling Happy

Mindsets – The power of the mind is truly amazing! Our ability to stay focused on positive aspects of challenging situations or remain hopeful and optimistic despite problems we may face is vital when it comes to creating the potential for feeling happy!

The Mindset of Acceptance and living in the present moment will always be better than the Mindset of Worry and negative thinking about the future. The Mindset of Encouragement will always be a better way to think about relationships than the Mindset of Demanding and trying to control other people against their will. The Mindset of Responsibility will always create more self-empowerment as opposed to the disillusionment and helplessness created by the Mindset of Blame.

So if your Mindsets allow you to Accept and live in the moment, Encourage people rather than dominate them, and be Self-Responsible rather then blaming others, you will think in ways that will invariably lead to happiness despite the ups and downs of life!

2. Emotions & Feeling Happy

Emotions – There are only 4 Primary Emotions (Fear, Sadness, Anger, & Joy) and only one of these is linked to happiness (Joy). Clearly we need to manage our emotions to maximize the Joy in our lives and minimize the other three! However, let us never forget that all four primary emotions are normal and need to be felt to some degree as part of living a normal life. To manage our emotions successfully we need to identify the situations that trigger our emotions and then Problem Solve these situations where change is possible or use Coping Skills where we must endure situations we cannot change.

3. Lifestyle & Feeling Happy

Lifestyle – When it comes to feeling happy the lifestyle factors of Sleep, Diet, Exercise and Social Support are core foundations to maintain your wellbeing and thus be able to feel happy.

Sleep – a guaranteed way to feel ‘Unhappy’ is to not get enough sleep and become tired, irritable and moody. Getting enough sleep would arguably be the most important foundation of being able to feel happy in life – yet most of us do not pay sufficient attention to getting enough sleep!

Diet – The healthy food pyramid has been around for decades reminding us of the importance of fresh fruit and vegetables and the downsides of sugars, fats and caffeine. Yet how many of us have a good diet? Most of us feel a sense of happiness and clarity after a strong coffee or tea, yet suffer the tension and agitation that invariably follows. Many of us are also far too familiar with the ‘sugar high’ of snacks and chocolates only to suffer the ‘sugar low’ when the initial rush is gone. Diet is also arguably as important as sleep in creating the foundations of feeling happy.

Exercise – There is an overwhelming amount of evidence to show that regular intense exercise produces ‘happy chemicals’ or endorphins in the brain that lead you to feel happy. Despite this, the majority of us do not get enough exercise – missing out on the ‘happy chemicals’ but also on the other benefits such as improved sleep and weight management.

Social Support – There is an old proverb, ‘birds of a feather flock together’ and the people you associate with will either help you be positive and feel happy and optimistic about life or make you feel negative, angry and frustrated. Are you spending time with the right people to help you feel happy?

4. Purpose & Feeling Happy

One of the big secrets to happiness is having a clear sense of Purpose in your life. People who have a strong sense of purpose are almost always ‘happier’ than those who do not – regardless of the level of wealth, poverty, fame or status. If anything there seems to be a pattern of increasing unhappiness as people acquire extreme wealth or fame.

I am sure you have seen the laments of movie stars and millionaires who talk about the ‘price’ of their success and how much happier they were is their earlier years when they had a much stronger sense of purpose and ambition to succeed. The only way out of their new-found unhappiness will be to gain some meaningful and challenging goals in their lives where ‘Purpose’ will once again rise like a phoenix and their sense of happiness will return.

The Answer: Can You Really Control How Happy You Feel?

So let us return to the question: ‘Can you really control how happy you feel?’

My answer is YES! However, just how high the feeling of Joy you experience and how often it happens will largely depend on: (1) the effort you make to Balance the Four Elements of Your Wellbeing, (2) surrounding yourself with optimistic and positive people, and (3) your ability to proactively maintain your health!

Also remember that as you maximize your daily happiness, don’t forget we must all ride the highs and lows of life just as the saying goes: “If you want the joy of rainbows – you gotta put up with the rain.”

Ride the Waves of Life

Dr Pete

The Stress Surfer

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