A recent study from the University of Wisconsin, published in the December 21, 2009 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that depressed patients are unable to sustain activity in brain areas related to positive emotion. The study challenges previous notions that individuals with depression show less brain activity in areas associated with positive emotion. The new data suggest similar initial levels of activity, but an inability to maintain them over time. “Being able to sustain and even enhance one’s own positive emotional experience is a critical component of health and well-being,” notes the study’s senior author, Richard Davidson.
Even if you are not depressed, consider the ramifications of this different approach to happiness. For example, the intense delight you feel about a new car, a new home, or a new love soon wears off – don’t you wish you could prolong it? Generally, senior citizens feel happier than younger counterparts because they know what is important at this point in their lives. People who have had a near-death experience are happier for longer periods of time because they feel that they have been given a second chance. Optimistic people live longer and with a better quality of life.
What can you do to maintain high spirits?
As a stress management specialist, I have learned from thousands of people that stress saps vitality, quickly depleting our sense of fun and humor. Stress usually triggers fatigue, various aches and pains that come and go, junk-food eating, distraction, irritability and worst of all, self-sabotage – “What was I thinking!” These symptoms tip our personal balance toward negativity.
Stress will always land on your doorstep, but you don’t have to constantly open the door! Be aware of your personal triggers and symptoms. Address them before they rob you of what is truly important – your spontaneity and joy. Strive for balance in your life and you will prolong happiness.
Happiness Strategies that Go the Distance
- Accept the premise that life is a series of recoveries, so you can be prepared for destabilizing moments and not be bowled over. Remember, one moment can be bad and the next one better. This is why it is important to enjoy the interim and expand it!
- Manage the little stressors which you can do something about, this includes environmental chemicals, clutter in your home, skipping breakfast, insufficient sleep, a lack of quiet time; even old makeup and skin lotions are stressors.
- Meditate and perform visualization techniques to improve your mood for longer periods of time. Practice sitting quietly while breathing deeply to your own natural rhythm for a few minutes each morning and you will notice that the relaxation response cue will last throughout the day. If you have trouble sleeping, repeat before bedtime.
- Practice reframing negatives into positives. Reinterpret the arguments, the irritating scenarios, with a compassionate spin. Soon you will automatically be putting a positive spin on most perceived annoyances, to let them go.
- Exercise to shed stress and release endorphins. You can work out for short bursts throughout the day when you feel your mood dipping to get an effective pick-me-up. A bonus benefit: You will lower your blood pressure throughout the day.
- Find a hobby you love to do to literally get lost in time and space.
- Get together with others to intensify happy moments. Happiness is contagious.
- Look at great art; read inspiring books and listen to beautiful music. Your imagination will soar. Move away from toxicity both physically and emotionally.
- Seek pleasure like a detective in all the small and ordinary places. Activate your five senses instead of numbing them or overriding them with your intellect.
- Find your faith to feel a part of something grander, purer and more benevolent. Have faith in yourself to conceive, believe achieve.
Debbie Mandel, MA is the author of Addicted to Stress: A Woman's 7 Step Program to Reclaim Joy and Spontaneity in Life, Changing Habits: The Caregivers' Total Workout and Turn On Your Inner Light: Fitness for Body, Mind and Soul, a stress-reduction specialist and teacher. She is the host of the weekly Turn On Your Inner Light Show on WGBB AM1240 in New York, runs an educational website, and has been featured on radio/ TV and print media. To learn more please visit www.turnonyourinnerlight.com.