By Teja Lele Desai
It’s not destiny that decides you’ll be a sour face. Happy people work towards being that. Here’s how to do it
If you’re happy and you know it…goes an old children’s ditty. But are you? The pursuit of happiness isn’t easy — materialistic goodies do not guarantee a good life; close relationships, work satisfaction and working towards greater good do.
Studies have shown that the tendency to be happy is an inherited trait. Not everyone has a sunny disposition, but experts say we can all learn to bring more joy into our lives.
Sophie Keller, author of the How Happy series, says the secret to happiness is knowing you are already happy. “We’re human ‘beings’, not human ‘doings’ or ‘havings’, so happiness needs to be a ‘being state,” she says.
Here’s a simple break-up offered by writer Sonja Lyubomirsky in The How of Happiness: 50 per cent of our happiness levels are genetically determined, 10 per cent are affected by circumstances while the remaining 40 per cent is subject to self-control.
So how do you get happy? Here’s a don’t-do list to set you on the path to happiness.
Don’t look outwards: Seeking external sources of happiness can sabotage your peace. San Francisco-based sustainable happiness expert Dr Aymee Coget suggests, “Focus on controlling your emotional state by choosing happiness and adopting positive psychology principles, build your resilience, follow your heart and meditate into the greatest states of bliss.”
Don’t hold a grudge: American writer Rita Mae Brown said it right when she wrote, “One of the keys to happiness is a bad memory.” Forgiveness doesn’t come easy, but is key; anger, antagonism and resentment are detrimental to your self. Dr Vandana Tara, a Delhi-based clinical psychologist, says, “In all probability, the person concerned will go on with life while you nurture ill-will. This bitterness could leave you physically and mentally ill.”
Don’t mistreat yourself: Happy people know the importance of looking after themselves — they eat healthy, exercise regularly and get enough sleep. Exercise keeps you fit, lets you relax, boosts brain power and improves your body image. Sound sleep lets you focus and increases productivity. Sleep-deprived people fail to recall pleasant memories, but are good at recalling glum moments.
Don’t neglect family and pals: Studies have consistently proven that spending time with close ones impacts our happiness quotient. Harvard happiness expert and author of Stumbling on Happiness, Daniel Gilbert sums up: “We are happy when we have family, we are happy when we have friends and almost all the other things we think make us happy are actually just ways of getting more family and friends.” Also, make time only for those who matter; superficial relationships sap mirth.
Don’t compare: Keeping up with the Joneses doesn’t help the happiness cause. Constant comparisons with people who are smarter, more attractive or successful leads to resentment. “Comparing is a battle, a fight. If you were to look back on your life, you don’t want to think you’ve wasted your time on it,” Keller says. Tara says the way out is to compete with yourself. “Easier said than done, but every individual is unique. Another person’s weakness might be your asset.”
Don’t be self-centred: Doing good makes us feel good. Research indicates that helping others ups our sense of self-esteem, setting us on the path to real and rewarding happiness. University of Pennsylvania professor Martin Seligman, in Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, says, scientists “have found that doing a kindness produces the single most reliable momentary increase in wellbeing of any exercise we have tested”. When the recipient of your gesture expresses joy, it acts as a reward, says Dr Samir Parikh, director of the department of mental health and behavioural sciences at Fortis Healthcare. Tutoring your house help’s kids or volunteering at a care centre yields the same result: A happy you.
Don’t fail to live in the moment: “It is our nature to dwell on past events, especially negatives. We need six positives for our brain to overcome what happened in the past. Training our mind to live in the moment — a sink-or-swim skill — is the way to happiness,” Coget says. Learn from past mistakes, but live in the present.
Don’t be ungrateful: Being grateful increases satisfaction. Think of three good things that happened to you in a day or keep a journal of what you are grateful for.
The Journal of Happiness study revealed that writing letters of gratitude increased happiness and life satisfaction while decreasing depressive symptoms. “We all don’t have things that we want, so it’s easy to be negative. Soon, this emotion seeps into our subconscious and takes over our minds,” Keller says.
Don’t be afraid: Fears of what may or may not happen will persist, but happy people take the first step towards turning their dreams into reality. “Whatever you’ve dreamed of, get started. Don’t wait for that one fateful day when everything will fall into place,” Desai says.
Parenting: MIND YOUR MIND
Q- I am college drop out and am struggling with strange experiences since childhood. My mother has schizophrenia and was always in her own world and my grandmother looked after me and her. I do not remember being hugged or cuddled by either of them and have seen my grandmother working consistently, complaining and worrying. Often, I was the target of her outburst. In school, I never had friends and would feel comfortable being with myself. I feel something is missing and do not know how to sort myself out. Once, in Grade 7 I was referred to a counsellor, but I felt odd and did not talk to her- ST
Dear ST, It takes a lot of courage to share your story and having the clarity that there is something amiss and you need help. I really appreciate your first step. A childhood bereft of emotional bonding and loving care, is indeed lonely and hard. However, your ability to connect your present distress to your experiences and being aware of it, highlights the possibility of better times to come. Emotional Neglect is a parent’s or caregiver’s failure to act.
It’s a failure to notice, attend to, or respond appropriately to a child’s feelings. In your case, your mother’s illness did not let her feel and express her natural maternal instincts and it appears that your grandmother was overwhelmed with responsibilities and stress of being the only support to two dependents. Emotional neglect is generally unrecognized by the child until symptoms begin to appear in adulthood, as happened with you. The ideal response for you would be to seek one on one psychotherapy. Although, it was difficult for you to share with your counsellor earlier in school, but with present realization of something amiss; it would become easier to share and get support.
However, till you take the appointment and begin with identifying your feelings and needs. Try to label the exact feeling and list your strengths. Plan and work out the connection of your strengths with your goals or needs. Take one small step at a time and spend time doing constructive activities that make you feel good, such as exercise, a sport, a hobby, or volunteering at a place that interests you. Remember, your feelings matter! All these activities would provide opportunities to meet new people with similar interests. Make sure to have regular short and sweet conversations with people, gradually it would get easier and longer.
The more you focus on constructive, healthy ways of self-care, you would soon begin to experience the feelings. Try sharing your grandmother’s work load and help her in domestic chores, sharing domestic expenses through your income (if none, take a part time job) and your mother’s care.
Q -I am a mother of a nine months old baby. My husband’s job keeps him out of town for days and sometimes the whole week. Since my son’s birth; I have been unable to sleep due to his disturbed sleep at night. He has started to sleep for most of the night for past 3 to 4 months but somehow my sleep is lost! I am unable to have a sound sleep since then. It takes me hours of tossing and turning before I fall asleep and often the fear of my son waking up to disturb my sleep weighs heavy on my mind. When I get up in the morning on my son’s cry or movement; it is a struggle. In fact, the entire day I feel tired; until again the night when I am unable to sleep. I am scared to take sleeping pills, as the doctor has prescribed. -AT
Dear AT, It appears that you are stressed out due to single-handedly raising your infant. The good part is that he is grown out of the stage of inconsistent or short sleep patterns and now has a regular time of sleep and waking up. Please try to match your baby’s sleep time with yours. The prescription could be discussed with the doctor by raising your concerns of side effects or other aspects. Along with that, you can try psychotherapy and discuss the reasons for stress, the fears you have regarding your son’s night time waking, etc. Meanwhile, try a few of the following tips; such as spending the last hour before bed doing a calming activity such as reading, listening to meditative music, avoiding electronics, doing some physical exercise during the day.
DISCLAIMER: The answers given in this column are not to be taken as a professional psychotherapy service. It is completely educational in nature. Please note that each individual’s situation is different and one must consult a therapist for psychotherapy service or advice.
Rima Sehgal PhD
Canadian Cancer Society urges British Columbians to know risks of flavoured tobacco, reduce smoking rates
DURING National Non-Smoking Week 2015, the Canadian Cancer Society BC and Yukon is encouraging British Columbians to know the risks of flavoured tobacco in an effort to bring down BC’s smoking rate from 13 per cent to 9 per cent. While BC has Canada’s lowest tobacco use rates, youth are especially susceptible to experiment with flavoured tobacco products which can lead to nicotine addiction.
“Smoking is still the leading cause of cancer deaths in BC. In spite of increased public awareness about the harms of smoking, our youth are increasingly using flavoured tobacco products. This must change,” says Kathryn Seely, Public Issues Director, Canadian Cancer Society, BC and Yukon. “From grape to strawberry, mint and even chocolate, flavoured tobacco is designed to look and smell appealing but it is just as risky and addictive as regular tobacco products.”
Data released as part of the 2014 Youth Smoking Survey showed that almost half of all BC high school students who used tobacco products had used flavoured tobacco products. Fruit and candy flavoured tobacco reduce the harsh effects of cigarette smoke for youth who are experimenting with smoking, making it easier for them to become addicted to tobacco.
“It is astonishing that tobacco – a legal product – kills one out of every two people when used as intended,” says Seely. “We want to see the BC government take a firmer stance on tobacco control to reduce BC’s smoking rates to single digits.”
To help bring the provincial smoking rate down to 9 per cent, the society is calling for:
- An increase in tobacco taxes from $47.80 up to $50 per carton (200 cigarettes);
- Regulations that would make outdoor patios of bars and restaurants as well as beaches, parks and playgrounds smoke-free;
- A ban on the sale of e-cigarettes to minors and a ban on e-cigarette use in places where smoking is banned; and for
- The BC government to take action to ban flavoured tobacco products next year, if the federal government does not ban the products this year.
Coinciding with National Non Smoking Week 2015, the Canadian Cancer Society is encouraging teens to know the risks of flavoured tobacco through an edgy public awareness campaign entitled Now Available. The campaign, designed in partnership with Rethink, is meant to create a conversation around flavoured tobacco and show the shocking reality that – just like regular tobacco – flavoured tobacco products can cause cancer and other health risks.
To learn more and to view the campaign video titled Operating Room visit: cancer.ca/flavours
For more information, visit cancer.ca or call the toll-free bilingual Cancer Information Service at 1-888-939-3333 (TTY 1-866-786-3934).
Get Your Kids Engaged In Organized Sports
In the past 30 years, obesity has more than doubled in young children and quadrupled in adolescents, potentially leading to a host of chronic diseases later in life, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Conversely, the CDC reports that regular physical activity provides a long list of physical benefits for children, but that’s not all. Daily exercise also promotes mental and emotional well-being that includes self-esteem.
“By now, I don’t think anyone is surprised that regular exercise is good for children and inactivity is places them at risk for illnesses later in life, but when you take a moment to consider the data in-depth for children who exercise and play organized sports, the details of a child’s future come to life,” says Danyel Surrency Jones, president of Power To Give and co-founder of Powerhandz Inc., (powerhandz.com), a company specializing in athletic training products to improve performance in baseball, basketball and football.
Danyel and her business partner and husband, Darnell Jones, a former professional basketball player who also co-founded Powerhandz, want kids in their community and beyond to benefit from the values learned from youth sports. That’s why they created the Power To Give program, which promotes positive development.
“We believe in the power of sports to change a kid’s life for the better,” says Darnell, who lists five significant benefits of youth sports.
- Cultivates a positive attitude: Sports are demanding. Come game time, a young athlete wouldn’t last long with a negative mindset. “Practice is no cakewalk either,” Darnell says. “As adults, we understand the need to hype ourselves before hitting the gym. The rewarding feeling we get walking out from the gym is similar to what young people feel after a game or tough practice.”
- Offers a sense of accomplishment, confidence and self-esteem: As the CDC noted, simply being physically active builds self-esteem. We are physical beings who are not meant to sit in front of a videogame for several consecutive hours. “Again, if you’re a physically active adult, you feel that sense of accomplishment in outdoing your last performance at the gym,” Danyel says. “Kids feel a similar way learning new skills and succeeding in a game, except more so.”
- Builds better peer relationships: Kids want to fit in, but it’s not always easy. Organized sports hurdles the high wall of social awkwardness so many children feel. Team sports such as baseball, basketball and football demand participants to work together for a common goal, which is a valuable lesson some adults still haven’t learned while interacting at work.
- More restraint in avoiding risky behavior: Ideally, parents can get their children engaged – in anything that’s productive, really. Bored or disengaged children have a way of getting into trouble. A student is less likely to misbehave in class or break the law if it means getting kicked off the team of a sport they love.
- Greater family attachment and frequent interactions with parents: Famous athletes say it all the time, “Thanks Mom. Thanks for driving me to and from practice, and thanks for showing up at the games.” And that doesn’t even count helping a child with actual practice – playing catch, squaring off one-on-one, etc.
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