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Dr. Romance on The Pursuit of Happiness

Posted Feb 07 2011 12:00am
Dr. Romance  writes: 

The founding fathers of our country saw the “pursuit of happiness” as an inalienable right – so important they embedded it in the DNA of the United States of America, by writing it into the Preamble to the Constitution.  It was a profoundly new idea at the time.  With it, they set wheels in motion that have been turning ever since. 

In my private counseling practice, clients often tell me, “I want to be happy!”  We then set about making it a reality.  I know that people often see themselves as unhappy, depressed and dissatisfied, and that there is a genetic component in our individual makeup that scientists say is responsible.  But don’t let that discourage you, because it’s obvious as I work with people that genetic makeup is not the only factor that affects mood.  

The things we feel good about are easily taken for granted, so making sure you spend some of your time noticing what you're grateful for gives you a chance to register the good things in your life, reduce your stress and anxiety, and feel better about yourself, your friends and family, and your life.  While stress and anxiety cause the body to release adrenalin and testosterone, focusing on gratitude floods you with oxytocin, acetylcholine and other calming, relaxing agents.  Hormones are emotions, emotions are hormones, so when you're flooded with happy hormones, you'll feel good. 

Your habits, your relationships, your environment, and especially what you think about them have a huge impact.  As a psychotherapist, I know that those things determine more about how happy you are than your genes do, because I’ve watched so many people learn how happiness works. 

When you look at your own behavior, thoughts and feelings more objectively, you can change the things that are subtracting from your happiness.  I recommend to my clients that they focus on gratitude, and work to increase the positive factors in their lives, and decrease the negative ones. 

You can improve every area of your happiness: your relationship with yourself, your relationships with others, your work life, your home life, and even your health.  While you’re at it, take a little time to congratulate yourself on your personal pursuit of happiness, because Celebration + Appreciation = Motivation.  The more you understand that increasing your happiness is working, the more motivated you will be to do more, and be even happier.  

Try laughter -- getting yourself a desk or phone calendar with a new cartoon every day, sharing a joke you got via e-mail, telling a co-worker the cute thing your kid said (or listening to his story) or talking about the funny scene in the latest hit movie -- will lower your blood pressure, calm your pulse and generally help you release a lot of stress. 

As you discover the techniques that are most effective for you, make a little reminder note about the best ones.  Keep it handy, so if your happiness level starts to slide, you can bring it back up to where you want it. And have a happy life! 

There are three things a person can do to bring more happiness into his or her life: 

1. Gratitude:  Remember to notice and be thankful for whatever you have, what your friends, family and partner do for and give to you.

 2. Generosity:  Giving to others, especially giving thanks and kindness, will make you happy, because most others will give back. 

3. Ethics:  Living your life according to a set of ethics that make sense to you will make you feel good about yourself, and increase your happiness.

Adapted from It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction

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