The Happiness Connection  

Live from the inside out

“If I get that new job, then I’ll be happy.”

“Buying that sporty new car, will make me feel young again.”

“A new partner is the thing that will change everything and make my life worthwhile.”

“If only I could win big on the lottery. Then, I could be happy.”

These statements are all examples of living from the outside-in. You think that by changing your circumstances, you will change how you feel about yourself and your life.

If you believe happiness comes from any of the above statements or something similar, you are unlikely to get the outcome you are looking for, especially if you want a long-term solution.

Humans are affected by something called hedonic adaptation. This describes the astonishing capacity we have to adapt to new situations.

Think about jumping into a lake or pool. At first it may feel cold, but if you stay in the water for a few minutes, your body gets used to it.

You adapt not only to physical conditions, but also to emotional ones. Extreme emotions rarely last. They are around for a short period of time before you return to a level of happiness that is normal for you.

A good example of this are lottery winners. Research shows that after an initial burst of increased positive emotions, subjects returned to their pre-win level of happiness.

Even if the amount was enough to change their life dramatically, their inside feelings of positivity returned to their normal level within six months. By this time, they were no happier than they had been before their win.

Working to change your circumstances isn’t the key to happiness. Altering how you feel on the inside is.

Research shows that one way to change yourself from the inside is through intentional activity. This refers to the things you think about and the things you make a conscious choice or decision to do.

Circumstance happens to you, often without your input. The choices you make, sometimes because of a change in your circumstances, is your intentional activity. This is where the key to being happier lives.

Being laid off is usually a circumstance beyond your control. What you decide to do or think as a result is intentional activity.

Being treated badly by another person is circumstance. Stopping to examine the situation to see what you can learn from it is intentional activity.

You don’t have to wait for circumstance to affect you, to change your life for the better. Add some happiness boosting activities to your life, today.

Goal setting, doing kind things for other people without expecting anything for yourself in return, surrounding yourself with positive people, and taking care of yourself physical, socially, and mentally have all been proven to increase your normal level of happiness.

Although hedonic adaptation may seem like a buzz kill for bursts of happiness, it is a super hero when circumstances cause your emotions to plummet.

Some circumstances have been shown to lower your normal level of happiness, but how you feel at your lowest won’t last. Hedonic adaptation sees to that.

Create a happier and more fulfilling life by living from the inside-out.

Get to know, love, and accept yourself. There is no such thing as perfection. Learn to embrace your warts just as enthusiastically as you do your beauty marks.

It doesn’t matter how much you buy or achieve In the end it's going to make very little difference to how happy you feel over an extended period of time.

Instead of trying to change things around you, learn to live and change from the inside-out.


The pain of loneliness

I’m not sure if it is because of the time of year, but several people I’ve connected with this week told me they are lonely.

Loneliness is a universal emotion that has little to do with being alone. It stems from feeling disconnected, or isolated.

Being alone doesn’t mean you will be lonely. It is confusing because both these words stem from a common origin. They both mean having no companions, but they have distinct, if not obvious, differences.

Lonely is an emotion. Being alone is a situation. You can be in a crowded room and feel lonely, or you can be alone and feel happy.

Like most emotions, the reasons for experiencing loneliness are complex. It isn’t the situation you are in, it is your perception of it.

Being in a room full of people you know may leave you feeling isolated. Perhaps the low self-esteem gremlins in your head are pointing out that everyone has someone to talk to but you.

Another person in the room may have quieter gremlins and approach someone for a conversation or take a moment for solitude and some people watching.

Emotions are powerful. They don’t confine themselves to your mind. Intense loneliness can cause physical pain.

When loneliness strikes, it heightens your fight-flight response. This is your physiological reaction to danger. You focus on the perceived threat and shut down anything that doesn’t serve you on your survival.

When you are in this state, it is difficult to learn, or develop new relationships.

Armed with this knowledge, it won’t surprise you that loneliness has been linked to depression, suicide, heart attacks, stroke, increased stress, poor decision making, and Alzheimer’s disease.

That isn’t even a comprehensive list.

Loneliness is an emotion. It frequently makes no sense unless you look a little deeper.

Just because you’ve never felt lonely before doesn’t mean you never will. As with so many things, your genetic make-up plays a part in determining how susceptible you are to it. You may carry a predisposition to loneliness that hasn’t been activated yet.

There are three times of life when you are most at risk for loneliness:

  • late 20s
  • mid 50s
  • late 80s

Unless you are in the most senior of these categories, you aren’t out of the woods yet.

Take steps to lessen your chances of suffering from loneliness. These actions will also help you battle feelings that already exist.

Stay connected

I am talking about connection, not having lots of friends. I have numerous friends, but I am only connected in a deep and meaningful way with some of them. If you want to battle loneliness, it is about quality, not quantity.

Friends are made, not found. Occasionally, you may meet someone who you have an instant and long-lasting bond with, but time and shared experiences are the typical keys to friendship.

Research shows that if you and all the people you meet are coming from a place of kindness, you will become friends with the people you see the most often.

With this in mind, pursue interests, not people. Think about the things you like to do and find groups where others with similar hobbies hang out. With this approach you are more likely to find individuals who are like-minded and enjoy the same things.

Get comfortable with your own company

You can apply the same principle for making friends with others, to making friends with yourself. Many people are so judgmental and critical about themselves that they can’t really be friends.

Come from a place of kindness and spend time with yourself.

I have started booking a monthly Date with Me into my calendar. I’m making sure to plan and choose a date, so I don’t let it get forgotten.

It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as it is for you, and you give yourself sufficient time to relax, unwind, and enjoy. Refuse to let any negative self-talk or discomfort invade your space during your date.

Come from a place of kindness and spend enough meaningful time alone to learn to love and appreciate who you are.

Take time for personal development

One of the best ways to battle loneliness is to delve into the reasons for it. Once you know why you feel the way you do, you can develop strategies to combat feelings of disconnect and isolation.

The next time you notice you are feeling lonely, take some time to lean into your feelings. Possible questions you might ask yourself are:

  • Why am I feeling this way?
  • What would change how I feel?
  • Can I view this situation from a different perspective?
  • What is one thing I could do right now to lessen how I am feeling?

Be brutally honest with yourself. Offset this by being kind and accepting. The you that exists today is perfect for today.

Your aim is to be a little bit stronger and wiser tomorrow. You are on a journey of self-discovery that will continue for your entire life. There is no such thing as perfection or finished.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone to help you. Having a coach can make transformation happen more quickly, as they know the questions to ask and can suggest strategies to try.

Most people feel lonely at some point in their lives. You don’t have to let it get the better of you.

Remember, loneliness is an emotion. That means you have more control over it than you might realize.

Mental cold-and-flu season

Even though the days are beginning to get lighter, it is still cold-and-flu season. A time when the number of people suffering from these afflictions is high.

A friend told me a few weeks ago that she felt compelled to show up at work, even though she was coughing, sneezing, and had a temperature. Not surprisingly, she was immediately sent home.

When I asked her why she didn’t call in sick, she said she felt it was important to show her boss how sick she was, so he didn’t think she was faking.

I understand her worry. We live in a world where judging the actions of others is rife.

When I taught at a prep school in England, sick days meant having to call my head teacher. I used to try to sound as sick as possible, or make my husband call for me, for fear he wouldn’t think I was sick enough to stay home.

Traditional work place culture has led us to believe you are a better person if you soldier in to work and spend an unproductive day spreading germs. The sicker you seem, the more noble you are perceived.

It seems that humans have evolved to be suspicious and judgmental. Why that is may be a topic for another day. Today, I want to make a different point.

If you are physically ill, you may have a temporary bug, an injury, or a long-term condition. All are very different ways of being unwell, but all are equally valid.

If you accept that physical illness presents itself in different ways, isn’t it likely that mental illness does the same? A physical cold will only last a few days. Perhaps you can suffer from a mental equivalent.

A friend with a young child was struggling last week. My heart went out to her. I can remember how difficult it was to be desperately tired, mentally depleted, and still need to find the energy to care for a youngster.

Having the ability to call in sick from one day of motherhood would probably have made all the difference to her mental health.

When I was a teacher on Vancouver Island, we had a set number of sick days per year. If you didn’t feel well enough to teach, you would call the substitute teacher line and then go back to bed.

I rarely took days for physical sickness because I was rarely physically unwell. I did, however, take some mental sick days.

At this time in my life, there was no hint that I was going to develop clinical depression. I instinctively knew though, that the best thing I could do for my students when I was suffering from short-term mental illness, was to have a day off.

Even as I type the words short-term “mental illness” I feel the stigma that we attach to it. Why should having a mental “cold or flu” be any more shameful than having a physical one.

Everyone has times when they know they are under par mentally and emotionally. This shouldn’t be something we attach a stigma to.

Don’t buy into the old idea that illness must be seen to be believed. You don’t know everything about another person, and they don’t know everything about you. Let’s move away from the idea that people are trying to manipulate life to escape working.

Mental illness is about more than long-term recognized conditions. It is also about fleeting occasions when you struggle with your mood.

Events in your life can force you to your knees and make you susceptible to catching a mental cold or flu.

On those days, find time for self-care. Reach out to a friend or family member for support, take a mental sick day if that is available, or do something that restores your energy.

It is time to remember that what is good for our bodies is good for our brains. Likewise, what is good for our brains is good for our bodies.

It’s time we saw mental health in the same way we view physical health. Winter is also mental cold-and-flu season.


Stigma of mental illness

Stigma is a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.

The roots of this word lie in Greek and Latin where it refers to a mark made on the skin by a pointed instrument.

Stigmas exist for all sorts of conditions and circumstances. For the most part, they no longer carry a physical mark. That doesn’t make them any less shameful.

Stigma carries a belief that you are an outsider and don’t fit in.

This may have served our ancestors when they were roaming the savanna. Survival of the fittest was important. Humans want to fit in, so stigma was a great tool to shape a society or tribe that would survive.

We have come a long way since then, but some of our programming hasn’t.

One of the things that carries the greatest level of stigma today is mental illness. It still suffers from misunderstanding and is shrouded in shame.

It isn’t the only thing that has been stigmatized. Homosexuality, and being childless are just two examples of circumstances that were viewed as undesirable. To some extent, for some people, they still are.

My ears pricked up yesterday when I was having coffee with my friend. We were talking about our births. Both were stressful situations for our moms. She mentioned that her mom also had to deal with the stigma of having a child when she was 42.

That made me pause to think. Today, few people would even blink if you got pregnant in your 40s.

I can remember my mom saying she was determined to have her children before she was 30. I knew how common it was to get married and have your children when you were young, but I didn’t think about those people who strayed from the norm.

That gives me hope. If the stigma of being an older mom can be removed, so can the one that surrounds mental illness.

Bell Media began an initiative in 2010 to start a conversation about mental health in Canada. With the tagline Let’s Talk, they encouraged millions of Canadians to engage in a public discussion about mental illness.

On each Bell Let’s Talk day, they raise money for mental health programs country wide. To date they have donated over $93 million.

As well as raising money, they want to end the stigma that surrounds mental illness. They suggest five ways you can help to do this.

Language matters

If you don’t suffer from mental illness, you might not be conscious of the hurt words like loony, schizo, and retard carry with them.

I gave a presentation a few years ago where I referred to people who weren’t normal. I was discussing research findings and meant they were outside the norm.

I suffer from depression and the phrase not normal doesn’t bother me, but I’m not everyone. A lady in the audience was triggered and distressed by my words. I’m glad she shared her experience with me, because I am more cautious of my vocabulary as a result.

Educate yourself

How much do you really know about bipolar, depression, or schizophrenia? Learn what is fact and what is fiction. There is a wealth of information available.

Be kind

This might be the best place to start. Compassion is an attitude that can and should be practised every day. It’s not only beneficial for the person you are being kind to, it has remarkable psychological effects on the person being compassionate.

Listen and ask

It is common to hear over-generalizations that apply to a group of people rather than individuals. Canadians may be thought of as polite, but not all of us are and few of us are all the time. The same is true of negative reputations and stigmas.

It is important to connect with individuals, so you don’t get sucked into over-generalizations.

Talk to people touched by mental illness. They aren’t hard to find. Statistics show that one in five Canadians will suffer from mental illness at some point in their lives.

Be sensitive and respectful, and with their permission, ask questions.

Talk about it

Listening and asking questions will lead to better and more frequent conversations. You may be surprised to discover how many people you know who are affected by mental illness. Few are untouched by it.

Wednesday is the next Bell ‘Let’s Talk’ day.

Bell will donate five cents for every text sent and mobile or long-distance call made by their customers. If you aren’t a Bell subscriber, you can use your social media accounts to help earn money for mental health programs.

Bell will donate five cents every time you watch their Bell Let’s Talk Day video on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat. Below are a few other options you can take advantage of.

Twitter – tweet using the hashtag #BellLetsTalk

Facebook – use the Bell Let’s Talk frame

Snapchat – send a snap using the Bell Let’s Talk filter

A nickel may not seem like much, but a million nickels equals $50,000.

Join the millions of people who are touched by mental illness and let’s talk.

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About the Author

Reen Rose is an experienced, informative, and engaging speaker, author, and educator. She has worked for over three decades in the world of education, teaching children and adults in Canada and England.

Research shows that happy people are better leaders, more successful, and healthier than their unhappy counterparts, and yet so many people still believe that happiness is a result of their circumstances.

Happiness is a choice. Reen’s presentations and workshops are designed to help you become robustly happy. This is her term for happiness that can withstand challenge and change.

Reen blends research-based expertise, storytelling, humour, and practical strategies to both inform and inspire. She is a Myers Briggs certified practitioner, a Microsoft Office certified trainer and a qualified and experienced teacher.

Email Reen at [email protected]

Check out her websites at www.ReenRose.com, or www.ModellingHappiness.com

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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