The Happiness Rx
JODY STANISLAW, ND, CDCES
With this interesting COVID year that we have all experienced together around the globe, happiness has eluded many of us. Fear of getting sick, loss of loved ones, forced isolation, the closing-down of restaurants and businesses, and not knowing what’s ahead… Life is already challenging, but these recent events have made it more challenging than ever to stay in a healthy emotional state.
Even before COVID, a Harris Poll Survey showed that only around 30% of Americans reported being happy.1 Meanwhile, the incidence of depression increased worldwide by roughly 50% between 1990 and 2017.2
A healthy and happy emotional state is one of the best “medicines” for helping the body thrive. Society tells us that money, beauty, success, and fame are the keys to happiness. Yet, many people who have achieved 1 or more of these goals have discovered that, in actuality, none of them comes close to guaranteeing happiness.
Aristotle said, “Happiness is the meaning and purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.”3 The goal of all goals.
It is our job as naturopathic doctors to check in with the emotional state of our patients and to share tools with them that can help increase happiness. But how?
The “myth of more” is the engine that drives our economy, but it is also a major obstacle to happiness. Billions of dollars are spent each year to convince us that we are not okay as we are and that we need things – lots of things – to make us happy. We are all negatively affected. The messages we repeatedly see and hear go into our brains at a subconscious level and become beliefs. If this were not true, advertisers wouldn’t be spending billions to make sure we see their ads over and over again.
“I’ll be happy when I have more” is a myth. Don’t let your patients or yourself fall for it. Let’s be smarter than that. Let that go.
The second major obstacle to happiness is the myth of “I’ll be happy when…” How many of these statements apply to you? I’ll be happy when… I have the perfect mate; the perfect house; the perfect body; the perfect amount of money; when I get my degree; when I get more recognition; when I have a family; when the kids move out; when I have a perfect job; when I retire. (I, myself, have some work to do here!)
No matter how many I’ll-be-happy-whens we reach, it will never be enough. With each achievement, the accompanying satisfaction is fleeting. Think about the last 5 goals you achieved. How long did your happiness last? Did it change your level of happiness at your core?
“I’ll be happy when…” is a myth. Drop it. Check in with your patients. They probably need the reminder to drop this false belief too.
Happiness Is an Internal Job
The good news is that with conscious and consistent effort, anyone can raise their happiness set point. In these challenging COVID times, doing this is more important than ever.
Happiness can be increased by engaging in certain daily activities that raise one’s set-point. Just making a decision to be happier won’t work, just as making a decision to be healthier but doing nothing about it won’t work. Just as consistent exercise can be used to increase the fitness of the body, there are myriad daily practices that can be used to increase one’s level of happiness.
Here is a long list of such daily practices. Please use them for yourself and share them with your patients:
- Don’t believe everything you think
- Let go of belief patterns that do not serve you
- See negative thoughts as merely byproducts of the Velcro phenomenon (ie, our brains are wired to attach more strongly to negative vs positive thoughts), and just let them go
- Register positive thoughts more deeply and take time to savor positive experiences
- Look into your eyes in the mirror every morning and take time to appreciate yourself
- Have the daily intention to seek out and notice all the good around you
- Instead of forcing yourself into positive thoughts that don’t feel true, gently lean your mind each day toward thoughts that make you feel happier
- Stop feeling sorry for yourself; nobody is going to come to your pity party
- Turn on the feeling of love in your heart by sending loving energy to any and all people around you, including yourself
- Write a gratitude list
- Upon waking, set the tone for the day ahead by setting an intention to have a great day
- Let go of anger and resentment
- Practice forgiveness
- Practice compassion
- Commit to laughing 5 minutes every day, even if you have to force it
- Close your eyes and imagine filling your body with white, healing light
- Smile at strangers
- Eat healthy foods
- Stay well hydrated
- Commit to no screen time after 8 or 9 PM
- Go to bed by 10 PM
- When feeling anxious, take 5 deep belly breaths
- Avoid slumped posture and sit up straight
- Accept all in your life exactly as it is right now and trust that the universe is here for you
- Cultivate a feeling of reverence and gratitude for this amazing journey called life
Commit & Practice
Happiness is akin to a muscle. Any of these exercises, when used consistently, will make you feel more happiness. Share these with your patients. Have them pick one to commit to doing daily. Choose one for yourself. Doing more than one of these is not even necessary; just pick the one that calls to you the most and practice it daily.
Committing to a happiness practice over weeks, months, and years is what makes all the difference. With patience and consistency, anyone can raise their happiness set-point and enjoy a happier and healthier life. In these challenging times, this prescription is more important than ever.
- Sifferlin A. Here’s How Happy Americans Are Right Now. Time Magazine. July 26, 2017. Available at: https://time.com/4871720/how-happy-are-americans/. Accessed April 29, 2021.
- Liu Q, He H, Yang J, et al. Changes in the global burden of depression from 1990 to 2017: Findings from the Global Burden of Disease study. J Psychiatr Res. 2020;126:134-140.
- Pursuit of Happiness. Aristotle. Available at: https://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/history-of-happiness/aristotle/. Accessed April 26, 2021.
Jody Stanislaw, ND, CDCES, a 2007 Bastyr University graduate, is a Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist, and a Type 1 Diabetes (T1DM) specialist. Her TEDx talk, “Sugar is Not a Treat,” has over 2 million views. Drawing from 40 years of managing her own T1DM and 10 years of professional experience with T1DM patients, Dr. Stanislaw shares life-changing information about how to successfully manage the disease that standard medical care often leaves out. Her virtual consulting practice allows T1Ds all over the world to access her trainings, via private calls, online courses, and a group membership program. For more info, visit www.DrJodyND.com.