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Posts Tagged ‘depression’

Modern society has swallowed its own tail: in trying to make ourselves happier through modern advances, we have made ourselves instead the opposite. In a 2013 study of those adults who found themselves to be happy, only 55% of those interviewed of Gen X admitted to deep happiness, while other ages groups (like Baby Boomer and Millenials) scored quite similarly. In essence, only roughly half of the United States admits to happiness. Though in decades past happiness may have been measured differently, if measured at all, the greatest change is how happiness is defined. While statistics show that Americans are more glum, the questions remain: how do we define happiness, and how can we change our state of being?

PBS published happiness as “…the good life, freedom from suffering, flourishing, well-being, joy, prosperity, and pleasure.” But what does this mean? Perhaps the definition ultimately comes down to the individual and his or her situation, but one might venture a guess that true happiness begins with the most bottom tiers of Maslow’s hierarchy of need, so once we have safety, food, and comfort, we can begin our journey to happiness. If we feel successful in some manner (either professionally or personally), have self-esteem, laughter, and are able to participate in things we enjoy, we will find happiness. This still seems a superficial answer, and I intend to take the next few weeks to investigate what truly makes us joyful and happy.

This search began after several conversations with friends recently, both instigated by myself and the friends, regarding our state of well-being. One friend offered that he had lost the will to do any of the activities he once loved, which was a heavy load to hear since he was the man who taught me how to love the world around me. Another friend found herself several times either in a fury or in tears because she found herself in her mid-forties and childless. There are more still, those who have found sadness dwells in their souls instead of the burning excitement for life they once held.

When I began my research, one very common theme arose multiple times: do not compare yourself to others or to an unrealistic expectation. We will begin here. Happiness is your own journey, as is life. Our paths may be different, but one is never more important or successful than another. High school reunions too often spark such feelings: that perfect kid in high school is now president of the world? Worse yet, we become consumed with images on Facebook of these perfect lives of our virtual friends, and instantly we see ourselves as failures because we haven’t had the apparently required two kids, gotten engaged, gotten married, bought a new car, went on a trip around the world…twice. Whether or not social media virtual friends are honestly showing their true lives in irrelevant; what is relevant is your true life.

If you find yourself a bit glum these days, here is your step one homework for happiness: count how many times you honestly check social media sites each day. Do this for a matter of days, take the average, and now cut that number in half. So, if you pop online 20 times during the day (mostly at work when you don’t want to do that report, I suspect), half of that is obviously 10. For the next two days, go online no more than 10 times. Then, cut it in half again. Two days you may only check 5 times a day. Then…you got it…cut it out completely. Go for a week without checking, if you can, and then limit yourself to one time a day at most after that.

Here’s why: staying off social media first will make you more productive in general. You will be more focused at work, and more mindful at home. Mindfulness is an incredibly important part of our happiness. Without comparing ourselves to other people, we can focus on each moment of our day, which is essentially what the makeup of our lives really is. Spend time noticing the world around you: the colors of the room, the temperature of the air outside, the shapes of the clouds, the way your lunch really tastes, the way your favorite lotion smells. Be present in each experience, without judgement of good or bad, just observing life. Observe your own life and ask what makes you happy, what makes you feel good. Honor your sadness or whatever emotions you may feel, embrace it, speak to it, and start to let it go. Most importantly, remember that you cannot compare yourself to anyone else because you are unlike anyone else. This is your homework. Step 2 will come shortly.

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In the tradition of the 12 Days of Christmas, I am beginning a movement toward happiness for all called the 12 Days of Happy. For the 12 days following Christmas, we will celebrate how beautiful and amazing life is by suggesting ways to make life richer and more beautiful.

Day One: Sleep Well and Wake Happy

WebMD reports that 20% of Americans sleep less than 6 hours on average, which falls way below the recommended 7-8 hours for adults. Work, financial woes, stress, a virtual 24/7 society of social media and gaming prevents us from scheduling an appropriate amount of sleep. Caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, poor diets, worse workout habits all contribute to a lack of sleep. While we sense the obvious ill-effects of this–exhaustion, moodiness– we need to consider the other consequences: “poor work performance, driving accidents, relationship problems, and mood problems like anger and depression. Heart disease, diabetes, and obesity” (WebMD).

Just like healthy eating, healthy sleeping is important, too, but so often set aside because we prioritize other things (an unfinished list, family care, work, house duties, etc). Starting today, focus on less alcohol and caffeine, especially close to bedtime (starting in the late afternoon). In the hour or two prior to bedtime, focus on quiet and calming activities that don’t involve eating, exercising, or even watching television. Fitness Magazine suggests an 8-Minute Yoga Workout before bed to relax us, and to deepen our sleep. If these suggestions still do not help deepen your sleep, consider if it is a self-fulfilling prophecy (“I can never sleep so therefore I won’t be able to sleep tonight”) or if there is a greater issue that should be addressed by a professional.

The self-fulfilling prophecy is also applicable to how we wake up, too. The Greatness Zone suggests going to bed (and/or waking up) grateful. What three to five things are you appreciative of? What good things do you anticipate throughout the day to happen? One of those things should be something you love to do: dancing, singing, cooking, running, calling your best friend, whatever suits your fancy. Interacting with close friends and family, those who share your same values and who respect you are vital in the process of being happy. Finding yourself frustrated throughout the day, take a moment to meditate and quiet the internal conflicts and external pressures, essentially a quick “restart” button. Find a few moments for yourself and follow the advice of Dr. Weil and Thich Nhat Hanh for simple meditations.

Of course, the most important element is doing that which makes you happy as far as career. This is not a minor adjustment, but consider if you are in the position to do so, change to a career or job that reflects your passion. If this isn’t possible, following the above suggestions may help you come to peace with your job or daily expectations. Having peace in your daily life might then make going to sleep each night easier and better, and thus begins a healthy and happy cycle.

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