How to Create More Happiness and Less Stress

by Dr Angel Adams, Dr Patricia Papciak

“Happiness is not a goal; it is a by-product.”

– Eleanor Roosevelt –

Image: A robin perched on a girl's hand

What is Happiness? It is defined as: the ultimate universal human desire to be in a state of well being characterised by emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy. What makes you happy? Does being with family members make you feel happy? Does walking in the countryside, holding a newborn baby in your arms, reading a good book or interacting with animals or birds bring you joy? And how can you make fleeting moments of happiness more enduring? What can you do to really understand and maintain a path to long lasting internal well being? What can you do to create a way of living right now where you wake up in the morning and you experience a joie de vivre and a love for humanity and a commitment to this beautiful planet we live in?

Happiness is qualitatively different than pleasure. Money can definitely buy things to make you feel pleasure, but an internal sense of happiness is not derived from material things, fashionable clothes, flashy cars, or external conditions such as power, fame, or prestige. When happiness is built upon your frame of mind and inner peace it is can be cultivated, but if it is built upon external circumstances, it is much more unstable and fragile.

Real happiness is internally self-generated. It bubbles up from within you naturally, and your sense of inner security can be sustained even when there is stress, change, a lack of material things or loss in your life. This is because your values are based on transforming yourself and what you desire to contribute to the world and how you view the world. Einstein posed the question about whether we see the universe as friendly or unfriendly. This question encourages us to choose between being a victim where the mindset is to blame others, or to take responsibility for having a positive impact on your world. Furthermore, try to surround yourself with people who are positive and upbeat. Eleanor said it “It is better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness.” Look closer to see how others cultivate happiness and let it be contagious.

If you feel depression, fearfulness, and panic you can train your brain to cultivate the skill of developing more happiness. Perhaps you know where your negative feelings stem from because you have something you have to do that you are resisting and that makes you feel stressed. Maybe something happened the day before that was upsetting. But what about the days when there is nothing tangible that can help explain those depressed and/or anxious feelings? What can we you to come to some deeper understanding of that free-floating anxiety and low mood and more importantly, what can we do to help calm and reverse those kinds of feelings.

One important distinction that needs to be clarified here is that some people suffer from depression and anxiety because there is a faulty regulation of the neurocircuiting throughout their brain which impacts on the creation of a chemical called serotonin. This differs from normal low moods and anxiety which comes about because of something specific and goes away when the danger or threat passes, whilst the other is a genetically linked to a problem that needs to be treated by a professional(s) with medication and therapy.

For those who have a biological depression, first seek out medical treatment. Ultimately all individuals can alleviate stress by finding ways to build inner peace. Many people work towards this via meditation, physical movement such as running, dance, yoga, and there is no doubt that these disciplines can help move one to a different place in one’s thinking. Equally easy for starters is to walk, and breathe, and listen to the natural sounds and sights of nature. These kinds of activities will calm you through deep oxygen and the simple beauty of nature outside yourself. You must find a way to escape that ego of yours that will try to make you feel that you must be better, have more material things, or constantly compare yourself to others. It is the ego that keeps us from being in touch with our most inner thoughts and feelings.

What is stress? It is the instant your brain thinks that you are confronted with any real or imagined threat, and your body’s fight or flight response is triggered. A sudden surge of chemicals (mainly adrenalin) provides the energy needed to swiftly react to a possible life-threatening situation. According to studies, when we are under stress, our heart rate goes up, our blood pressure rises, and blood is shunted away from your midsection, going to our arms, legs, and head for quick thinking, fighting, or fleeing.

Having too much stress causes you to feel depressed, fearful and unhappy. The problem is that we don’t utilise the fight flight response in an adaptive way. Irrational and negative thought process causes feelings of hopelessness and one can begin to self-medicate by smoking, drinking, binge eating, overworking, etc.

If you run away (flight) and isolate yourself, bury your head in the sand and avoid problem solving, this is an example of a maladaptive flight response. If you give in completely to the fear response, you will hit a bottom of helplessness and you can become swallowed up by negative thoughts. You might begin thinking in very black or white terms such as I will NEVER be happy or my stress will ALWAYS be there. Thus, the flight response should be one in which you are leaving in a healthy way. You move away from stress to regroup, to heal, to reflect to regenerate, to work on getting better and healthier. At some point you may decide to leave a stressful dead-end job or relationship to improve your life.

The fight response is counter-productive when you respond by blaming or attacking others physically or emotionally or inflicting pain on your self such as cutting or self-harming. You might engage in beating yourself up emotionally through guilt and shame. The fight reaction should be used in a healthy way such as fighting for yourself, your rights, or your loved ones. Being assertive and proactive is an example as you work towards achieving your goals. Here you to make decisions that help you change your life towards an inspired, focused direction.

Image: Eleanor Roosevelt

We learn a great deal from role models, mentors and leaders who we admire about how they overcame adversity and deal with inner turmoil and stress. Eleanor Roosevelt was the wife of US president Franklin D. Roosevelt. She became a worldwide leader and figure, especially after her husband died as she had to step into his place. Yet her early life was filled with insecurity as she was, by temperament, a very shy girl. She had huge issues about her body image and the way she looked. She also suffered from a depression when she discovered her husband was having an affair with his secretary. Instead of dropping out of life, she chose to become more politically active and connected with the people. She was dedicated and committed to reducing poverty, racism and sexism. Eleanor Roosevelt went on a courageous journey. It was reflected in her political life where she travelled across countries, and it showed in her internal life as reflected by her 5 motivational quotations below:

    “The purpose of life, after all, is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experiences.”

  1. Make your life a courageous journey where you are not afraid to take new risks. Don’t say “someday” I will do this, when I am richer or … (Fill in the blank). “Someday” may never come. If you live each day with joy, you will wake up with enthusiasm and expectancy, you’ll be more likely to jump out of bed and shout “I can’t wait!”‘ The saying “A ship’s safe in harbour, but that’s not what ships are for” is relevant here because you need to leave your comfort zone often. We encourage you to let the wind in your sails and reach your potential!
  2. “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

  3. This is such an important principle to keep in mind. You absolutely do get stronger when you face an event or an experience that makes you feel so devastated that you think you will not survive. Bad things happen. Eleanor is saying to find the courage to pick yourself up and envision the will to go on, to be stronger, to be better than before. To make the next day better then the last. We are not underestimating the strength it will take sometimes to do this, but every time you look fear in the face and challenge that fear, you are presented with an opportunity to be bigger, and better and stronger!
  4. “Remember always that you not only have the right to be an individual, you have an obligation to be one.”

  5. Be true to yourself. You may try to be like someone else for all the wrong reasons, or you lose track of who you are in an effort to please others. Sometimes you work long and hard hours, and you don’t make the time to become more introspective and to care for yourself first in a healthy way. You might allow other people to drain you because you don’t feel a strong obligation to put yourself first! It is useless to think that you can make your children or your spouse or anyone else happy until you are happy yourself. Being true to yourself means you have a desire to respect your own feelings, dreams and needs as well as trusting your ability, your strengths and your knowledge. In addition to taking some alone time, it is crucial to have someone with a sympathetic ear who you can share your feelings with, who will not judge you, who will not try to fix you, or who will not try to change you.
  6. “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

  7. Don’t let anyone make you feel inferior! Whatever you do or say, there will always be some people who criticise you. It’s important to remember that often criticism comes from people who are expressing something that is reflecting more about themselves than about you. Unless you have truly offended someone, (in which case you must make amends and learn from your mistakes) then it is best to disengage from their negativity. Terry Cole Whittaker had a saying: “What you think of me is none of my business.” Achieving this amount of control means practising having good emotional boundaries, and it does take practice! We support you in not letting people’s negativity penetrate your emotional boundaries.
  8. “Someone once asked me what I regarded as the three most important requirements for happiness. My answer was: A feeling that you have been honest with yourself and those around you; A feeling that you have done the best you could both in your personal life and in your work; The ability to love others”.

  9. Be honest with yourself, do your best and love yourself and others. These may appear to be simplistic but putting them into action is the key. James Russell Lowell said: All the beautiful sentiments in the world weigh less than a single lovely action. One of the ways we have found to help our internal journey towards happiness is to make it a habit to start the day and end the day on a positive note. Prayers of gratitude are considered to be the most powerful form of prayer according to research by Dr Emmons. Then repeat a short but powerful affirmation about yourself as an antidote to waking up feeling anxious or gloomy. Say the affirmation like an incantation in the present tense with an attitude that you are truly worthy of everything you’re saying! Music can help. One great tune is Everything is Coming my Way by Santana, Choose what will make you feel happy, joyous and grateful. Don’t forget to end your day on a similar note:
Image: Eleanor Roosevelt

From the moment you open our eyes in the morning to the moment right before you close your eyes at night-time this ritual will help cultivate your happiness. It will also help you deal better with stress that you are bound to meet during the day. With this boost in the morning and the strength before bedtime, you will be more fortified to make intelligent choices with your fight or flight responses. You may not find success as rapidly as you would like, but if you keep working at it, doing the best you can at all times, being true to yourself and building integrity around your own emotional feelings you will move forward. Don’t forget the greatest gift of human beings is to be able to love one another.

Thanks for taking the time to read this Monday’s Motivational article.

Please feel free to send me any comments or your own stories you wish to share, or post them on this site by leaving a comment below.

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