Happiness is a State of Mind by Choice
Jocelyn Cunningham, MD Dynamic Concepts & Wellness
#MillennialMentalHealth @ThesisClinic Workshop,
National University of Ireland, Galway 10.10.2017
‘If you plan on being anything less than you are capable of being, you will probably be unhappy all the days of your life’ Abraham Maslow
Understanding the mind to influence your happiness
My Workshop subscribes to the position that – We are all in pursuit of happiness – Happiness is unique to the individual. It is measurable by each of us.
In order to be less susceptible to negativity and suffering and instead to notice those ‘bursts of happiness’ or ‘sense of wellbeing’, we must practice enjoying happiness in the present moment. According to Eckhart Tolle, it is important to ‘Realise deeply that the present moment is all you ever have. Make the now the primary focus of your life’ (Tolle, p30). I feel that it is imperative we have a comprehensive and profound understanding of the mind and how to maintain control over it. Yes, once we learn to catch our learned cognitive processes, for example, it may be the case that you if something positive was happening for you in the moment, you would naturally, out of habit, start thinking that something is going to go wrong here. Those processes that prevent us from living in the moment of happiness or state of wellbeing, we must exercise changing this way of thinking. It is then possible, through this new found awareness, to maintain a positive sense of wellbeing.
It is a fact that some things in our everyday lives do not go well for us, and/or sometimes we are faced with difficulties and challenges that can, if we choose to let them, influence our state of wellbeing. I believe that this is purely out of habit, a learned cognitive process and behaviour. However, in reality, our issues on negative situations arise largely from our own mind. The feelings of anxiety ensue; anxiety may manifest itself in the body by means of muscular tension, a nervous feeling in the pit of your stomach, headaches or even heart palpitations. This is all due to our negative thinking around the situation – again, a learned behaviour.
I feel that having suffered from anxiety resulting in a series of panic attacks from my early adulthood that I have learned from those experiences. I now choose not to get overwhelmed or to allow for the inner critic or the negative thought process to creep in and change my experience or moment of happiness. How do I succeed in changing and maintaining this mindset? Firstly, I trust my intuition. I process things thoroughly and logically. I make a choice based on the desire for wellbeing and to experience happiness in the ‘here and now.’ I choose to respond to life’s challenges with a positive and calm mindset.
This is not always easy, but practicing this method and finding the inner strength is empowering. I can then face most challenges with the attitude of – I am only human, I am doing my very best, I will accept this for what it is now in this moment. Thoughts are exactly that – thoughts. We have choices. You have the power to choose whether or not you wish to think and react positively or negatively to situations, changes and behaviours of others. I have turned anxiety around to benefit my journey by using my own nervous energy to view challenges and experiences as an exciting unknown adventure for personal and spiritual growth. So, what I am suggesting is, it is crucial that we first of all understand and then gain control of our mindset and reconnect with the core of the self thus positioning ourselves to live a happier life.
Why it is so difficult to sustain a continually happy and peaceful mind if we have all this potential for happiness?
It may be a result of us habitually succumbing to negative and deluded thoughts that consume our minds and hence have the ability to leave us feeling overwhelmed. Delusions are distorted, misleading ways of viewing our own sense of self, of other people and our environments. And, cause us to act and react in unhelpful ways for ourselves.
When such delusions occur within us we have then lost our grip on the reality of the situation or experience. So, how is it possible to notice or see things as they really are in that moment, if our minds are always under the control of subtle forms of delusion most of the time? This is the very reason we become stressed, anxious and irritable, thus, preventing us from living in reality and missing out on happiness.
We are all in pursuit of happiness – Happiness is unique to the individual. It is measurable by each of us.
I would like to suggest the following:
- Exercise – Any form of exercise, as we all know there are several health benefits to exercise as well as improving our sense of wellbeing. ‘Sound body, sound mind’.
- Random Acts of Kindness – Encourage kindness in the family, through friendships, work place, communities, social media, or a stranger on the street. This act brings out the caring nature that is inherent in all of us. It is the core of our being to love and care. When we give, listen, support or encourage we tend to feel good about this. This act – no matter how little or large – makes a positive difference and impact to our wellbeing and to that of others.
- Relationships – Let’s agree – We all need human contact and interaction. The word “relationship” first appeared in 1744, but was not applied “specifically of romantic or sexual relationships” until 1944. It seems the term expanded to encompass all enduring social ties in the 1970’s. People that have had one or more relationships in their lives have a greater sense of wellbeing. Why is this so? Conversation – The sharing/disclosing of personal information is like a form of offloading and this helps to relieve feelings of stress or worry. Listening – Active listening or the sense of being listened to and experiencing words of support or encouragement from a trusted friend is an effective way to establish and strengthen relationships. Time – Quality time with people in relationship boosts our overall sense of wellbeing. Quality time for the self is just as important as time with others. Keep in relationship with the self. Reconnect when there is a disconnect.
- Gratitude Gratitude is an attitude and way of life that has positive benefits in terms of mental health and happiness. It goes hand in hand with mindfulness in its focus on the present moment and awareness around what we have presently. Feeling, noticing and expressions of gratitude change our outlook to a more positive enriching attitude which compensates for our brains’ natural tendency to focus on threats, worries, and negative aspects of life. Gratitude allows for more positive emotions like joy, peace, compassion, love and contentment which research shows can undo the grip of negative emotions like anxiety. Nurturing gratitude can also broaden your thinking, and generate more positive cycles of cognitive processes and healthy behaviours.
- Discover your strengths & qualities We all have strengths and qualities. In fact, some of our strengths are so natural to us that we may not even consider them strengths. These are unique to us. Recognising such qualities, talents, gifts, natural abilities and utilising them in our everyday lives will only serve us well.
I believe that we are most likely to value a job, relationship or hobby that aligns with your core signature strengths and allows you to regularly utilise them. Research indicates that one of the best ways to boost your long-term happiness is to use your strengths in new ways and situations, rather than focusing on your weaknesses. For instance, a 2010 study of college students found that individuals who used their signature strengths made more progress in reaching their goals (and improving their well-being) (Linley, P.et al, 2010) In addition, an earlier seminal study in 2004 found that certain character strengths, including hope, zest, gratitude, love, and curiosity, show a stronger link to life satisfaction (Park, N, et al, 2004).
The use of strengths and virtues is therefore well in keeping with the philosophy of positive psychology: to focus on the positives in your life, not the negatives!
- Spirituality and happiness Spirituality refers to our ultimate reality, the human experience or understanding of the world. It is a personal path which enables a person to discover the true essence of his or her being. It is based on the individual’s inner processes. It is aligned with how it affects the human spirit or soul.
Like happiness, spirituality is unique to the individual. The main differentiator between religion and spirituality is that there are no rules or guidelines one must adhere to in order to be spiritual. Spirituality is entirely a personal thing, it is found deep within us. It can be the knowing and understanding that there is a higher reality and that the universe does not revolve around the self. It may be harmony, wisdom, compassion, love, kindness and a divine presence in every moment in life. Spirituality can be fostered through quiet meditation, maintaining a tranquil lifestyle, practising a life of contemplation or bringing forth a gentle awareness to one’s life. It is getting to know our true self, understanding the nature of consciousness, and transcending the physical world as we know it. Once we have discovered inner peace and lose the need for worldly desires, it is easier to live happier and unconditionally loving lives. For me, being spiritual is about tapping into my greater awareness – my inner core.
I can achieve this by means of being in relationship with my family and friends, meditations, exercise and being outdoors and appreciating nature – cycling my bike, or going for a hike – as this helps to ground me and brings me back to my love for nature. Mindfulness and Meditation has been shown to have a strong association with well-being as it calms the mind, body and soul. It also helps to reduce stress and anxiety. This, in turn, promotes and supports positive thinking resulting in a reduction in stress levels and an increase in psychological well-being. Currently, there are many meditations or mindfulness apps available for download.
Initially, when I began mindfulness I noticed the calming effects of my body. After a period of time of practicing mindfulness and stillness, I learned to focus on the present moment and catch myself if my mind began to wander.
Finally, on spirituality – I believe that it can help to provide people with perspective, hope, and a deeper sense of meaning. By believing in something greater than ourselves, it will help us stay positive in times of unhappiness, and encourage resilience in its role as a coping strategy.
Be more compassionate with yourself and others. Reach inwards and outwards in compassion. Take time out in the moment – notice your thoughts, your feelings and your awareness. We all deserve to feel happiness and to actually enjoy it. Reconnect with your core being – it is very easy to disconnect when we get caught up in a world that is not really relevant to us such as social media.
We are all energies. The world is a great sea of energy, we can choose to dive into it at any time (this may well be out of our comfort zone) or we can move away from it (stay safe and within our comfort zone). I believe growth can only occur when we step outside of our comfort zone and this will help to rebuild our self-esteem. In psychological research, this is referred to as a ‘growth’ mindset and this is something I advocate and promote in my Spinning sessions.
We can feel empowered when we try new things and face new challenges in life. Let’s embrace these challenges and have more trust in ourselves. I feel it is very important to always cherish who you are and maintain to good self-care regime.
Should you find that you are faced with negative feelings or thoughts, learn to explore those thoughts as there is always a subconscious message in them. Share your fears or worries. Find a way to let go of that negative energy. Remember that feelings change. Come to the realisation that your mind can be your best friend or your worst enemy. Make that choice every day. Express anger in a creative way or through a form of exercise should you feel that you are carrying it throughout the day. Explore your belief systems, your mindset, and your sense of self-worth. Tell yourself everyday how wonderful you are. Believe in yourself. Reconnect with the core of the self and self-support.
I will leave you with these questions for yourself as an exercise of self discovery on your pursuit of happiness.
What is happiness to you?
What is your very essence?
What are your strengths and virtues? – Make a list….and don’t be too modest. For example, – I am good at………
What is your greatest need/desire in order to help you to feel that sense of happiness?
What steps can you take to reach this point of happiness or feeling of well-being?
‘Your emotions are your own reactions to your beliefs. Observe your feelings. What are your beliefs behind this feeling? Do you need it? Deal with the belief and the feeling will grow weaker and then disappear’. – Della
‘Everything can be taken from a man but…the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances’ – Viktor Frankl
Remember!!! You have the freedom of choice. Happiness is within your grasp. Take it!
Linley, P. A., Nielsen, K. M., Gillett, R., & Biswas-Diener, R. (2010). Using signature strengths in pursuit of goals: Effects on goal progress, need satisfaction, and well-being, and implications for coaching psychologists. International Coaching Psychology Review, 5(1), 6-15.
Park, N., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Strengths of character and well-being. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 23 , 603–619.
Segarstrom S, & Septhom, S (2010) Optimistic Expectancies and Cell-Mediated Immunity: The Role of Positive Affect 448 – 445 [online] Available at: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20424083
Eckhard, E (2001) Practicing the power of now CA: The new world Library
Influential Past Teachers [online] Available at: http://www.awaken.com/2013/01/abraham-maslow
*Abraham Harold Maslow (April 1, 1908 – June 8, 1970) was an American psychologist who was best known for creating Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and changing the view of human nature and human possibilities