I wish everyone could be happy. But unfortunately, the depression statistics in this country are grim. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, at least 9.5 percent of the United States adult population will experience some form of mood disorder in any 12-month period. At least 45 percent of these cases are classified as “severe.” Over a lifetime, these numbers are significantly higher with the average age of onset a young 30 years old. Women are 50 percent more likely to develop mood disorders than men.
Mood disorders encompass more than depression. They also include bipolar and dysthymic disorders. These statistics are derived from actual diagnosed cases of mood disorders and don’t take into account short-term cases of depression, mild cases of the blues, or generalized unhappiness.
It sometimes seems like it might be really difficult to be happy in today’s stressful world. A lot of people are experiencing economic difficulties unlike any they’ve ever had before. That can be really stressful and make it hard to feel relaxed. Our news media doesn’t help either. Every day there’s news of terrible things happening out there in the world – wars, genocide, unemployment, murders.
One of the fundamental ways to stay happy is to tap into the source of happiness from within, not from outside tings. Money, jobs, friends, boyfriends, come and go, but if you are not relying on those things for your true happiness you won’t be as attached to them. I know this concept can seem foreign or almost inconceivable to some, but I wholeheartedly recommend starting a meditation practice. It is what keeps me on track, and I don’t know where I would be without my practice. If you are drawn to a meditation path, you can see if the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda, my guru, speak to you.
Everything in the future will improve if you make a spiritual effort now.
~ Swami Sr. Yukteswar
Antidepressants: Worth the Price of Happiness?
Unfortunately, many people (medical professionals included) turn to pharmaceuticals to manage depression. In fact, according to the CDC2, antidepressants are the most prescribed drugs in the country, with children making up the fastest growing sector of growth for the pharmaceutical. In 2007, U.S. sales accounted for $11.9 billion!
While in severe cases of depression, anti-depressants may be helpful or even life saving, studies show that more than 50 percent of people taking prescription antidepressants continue to experience symptoms, with many slipping right back into depression.
The medications have many side effects, including:
- Weight gain
- Decreased sex drive
- Brain fog
- Increased risk of falls and fractures in elderly adults
- Physical symptoms like nausea, vomiting, constipation, and diarrhea
These are just a few of the many reported side effects of antidepressants. So, with such a high physical cost, are they worth it? And without antidepressants, is it possible to be happy through life’s ups and downs? I believe the answer is yes! Let’s take a look at physical and mental strategies to help up your happiness quotient.
A Reed in the Wind
The green reed which bends in the wind is stronger than the mighty oak which breaks in a storm.
Many people assume happiness means that you will walk around every single moment of every single day overwhelmed with joy. While this may actually be possible for a few people, it is actually quite unrealistic for everyone else. In fact, the expectation that you should always be bouncing with joy can be a source of unhappiness when you fail to meet that standard.
It’s a fact of life that crummy stuff is going to happen sometimes. Things come along that can leave you feeling pretty lousy: job loss, death, loss of partnership, mean people, and many others. To expect to be happy in the midst of these types of things is clearly unrealistic. What you can do, however, is to be resilient. In fact, happiness is all about resilience. It’s about being the green reed that bends in the windstorm but does not break.
So what do you do when something lousy happens? Allow yourself to feel hurt, angry, or upset. These emotions are a necessary part of the healing process. At the same time, you can use other tools to stay grounded and not identify yourself too much with that experience as a permanent one.
The Absence of Expectations
I mentioned before that expecting to be happy all of the time can actually mar your happiness. Expectations do that, because when you have an expectation it means you are attached to certain behaviors and outcomes over which you have no control.
When you attach to specific behaviors (usually from others) or outcomes:
1. You limit the possibilities of what you can accomplish because you are so focused on a single outcome.
2. You create a very narrow view of what it will take to make you happy.
3. The attachment pulls your focus away from the moment, where it is often very easy to find happiness, and instead focuses it on some point in the future when a certain set of conditions must be met in order to make you happy.
4. It pulls you away from the journey, which is often the best part of the ride.
I should mention here – expectations are quite different from goals. Goals can give you a sense of direction and purpose, which may also be important to maintaining happiness. Expectations, on the other hand, set you up for unhappiness, so recognizing when you have them and readjusting your thinking can help realign you to a happier frame of mind.
The foundation of yoga teaches us to work hard towards worthwhile endeavors, while being unattached to the “fruits” of our label. Enjoy the journey and doing things that you believe in, and that are your duty, but do not be attached to the results. Be a reed in the wind.
Focus on the Moment
In his book The Power of Now, author Eckhart Tolle talks about pain arising from two places: the past and the future. If you focus moment to moment, then pain is illusive. It is only when you look back or forward that you begin to experience fear and pain – two things that block happiness.
Focus on the moment is a very simple tool that can generate true joy. Even in the midst of turmoil, tiny moments can be joyful if you allow yourself to be fully present. In any moment, you can bring your focus to right now and let everything else fade away. It will wait.
I’ll give you a few examples:
Hate doing the dishes? Focus on the sensation of the warm water, the sight of the bubbles, and the pleasure of being in your kitchen. I actually find it quite meditative now (I don’t own a dishwasher, so I do spend a whole lot of time doing dishes!). Hate cleaning? Play music you love and focus on the fact that you are caring for yourself by creating a clean environment in which to live.
Go outside on a sunny day and sit down on the grass. Notice the verdant green of the grass and how wonderfully the ground supports you just when you need a place to sit. Feel the sunlight on your arms and face, nourishing you with vitamin D for good health. Listen to the birds singing and enjoy the slight breeze that cools you. Each of these things can give you great joy if you just pay attention.
You can’t expect life to be stress-free, but with a few tools you can manage stress and reset yourself. By providing yourself with support, you’ll feel generally calmer and more relaxed. Some stress release techniques include:
- Deep breathing
- Adequate sleep
- Staying hydrated
- Practicing yoga
- Exercising regularly
- Eating a healthy, nutritious diet
Did you know the mere act of smiling can instantly make you happier? A recent Scientific American report discusses studies on Botox recipients that suggest facial expressions may drive emotion. So – if you’re feeling down? Smile. Laughing helps, too, so pop in your favorite comedy and laugh.
Positive thinking can lead to positive emotions. You’ve probably heard of the concept of “paying it forward” or “random acts of kindness.” Behaving in a kind and compassionate manner can actually help create a positive frame of mind. Other suggestions:
Listen to your thoughts and pay attention to when negativity arises. When you catch it, replace a negative thought with a positive one.
Use affirmations and visualization to reinforce positivity.
Learn to detect when your ego is driving the ship. Ego can lead to a lot of negativity, so learning to recognize and quiet its nagging voice in your head is strong step towards positivity.
Practice gratitude. Focusing on the things for which you are grateful is a great way to feel more positive.
Find ways to satisfy your soul. Whether its building a house for Habitat for Humanity, reading a satisfying book, or sitting down at the piano and playing music, pursuing activities that nurture your creativity and personal sense of values will help you be happier.
Focus on the journey, not the end result.
Learn a meditation practice, and stick with it (again, I consider my morning and nightly meditations the foundation for my life).
Physical Support for Happiness:
Supporting your immune system, building good health, and creating overall vigor is also important for happiness.
Your brain is 60 percent fat. Studies show you need to continue to provide it fats in order to be nourished. Lack of fats can actually physically cause depression and cognitive issues. Add healthy fats to your diet from sources like walnuts, flax seeds, chia, avocados, and other plant foods.
Your body needs to be well nourished in order to support happiness. The Beauty Detox Solution outlines a great diet to help you feel better, which can help you be happier.
Make sure you get plenty of B vitamins and other essential vitamins. Enjoy dark leafy greens, which are rich in these essential happiness nutrients, as well as Probiotic & Enzyme Salad, as probiotics can help manufacture B vitamins in your gut.
You don’t have to have everything go perfectly your way every moment of every day in order to be happy. Instead, focus on small things to create an overall state of happiness that isn’t tied to what’s happening around you.
Stay connected to our community here! We can all support each other. We have each other in this world, and we truly are all connected…so you never are alone.