Wellness Wednesday: happiness and health

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Wednesdays are the middle of the week and a great time to reflect on our own wellness.  Has the week been a healthy one or are you a ball of stress?  Are you enjoying the week or just hanging on until the weekend?  How do you want this week to be?  How do you get there?  As an old yoga teacher frequently said, "you already are what you seek."  I would add that you already have what you need.  Yes, even this week.

This week, I read an interesting article in Diabetes Forecast about the effects of happiness on your health.  The article was about general health not just diabetes.  Happiness creates better health in a variety of ways.  First, if you're happy, you're more likely to take care of your health.   Second, when you're upset or depressed, angry or stressed, your body releases stress hormones and chemicals into your body, including cortisol.  These chemicals are great in a short-term "fight or flight" situation.  But, over time they have deleterious effects on health.  You see, this system is designed for short-term stress, it isn't designed to handle traffic jams and work conflicts.  The more you can suppress this response, the healthier your body will be.  But, according to the article I read (which unfortunately won't link!) happiness creates more antioxidants in the body and is associated with chromosomal changes in the cells that show a slower aging process.  So, it has positive effects even independently of the fact that it is generally not associated with stress.

In addition to all of the health-effects, life is just more fun and pleasant when you're happy.  This should prompt all of us to attempt to figure out what we can do to better secure our own happiness.  Oddly, this is a question people rarely really evaluate.  They either assume they have no control over their own happiness and don't take the time to really think about it.

You don't have perfect control over your happiness, but you do have enough control.  You can't choose all of the situations placed in your life, but you can choose some and you can have some effect on some of the ones you couldn't choose.  For example, it drives me a little crazy when A plays videogames with his friends Tuesday night.  They living room is dark, ominous music, and lots of cursing coming from A and headset.  I felt a little trapped Tuesday nights.  Now I pick up a hot yoga class during that time.

Taking control over the situations in our life involves more than just picking what activities to do or how to view a situation that we're placed in, though.  It involves plotting long-term career moves, making intentional choices about our friendships and the people with whom we spend time and planning ways to place ourselves in situations that make us feel empowered and good.  It also requires letting go of the notion that if you have truly been dealt a horrible hand of cards, and some of us truly have, that if we just get others to understand how bad the hand is, they'll find a way to trade in some of their cards and rescue us from our fate.  

In the spirit of taking control over my health, I've been working on a few surface goals to improve my own happiness while I continue to reflect on my larger goals about who I want to be and what I want to do with my life.  That takes time and I don't have all the answers.  But, I'm looking for them.

In the meantime, five of my current surface goals are:
  • Say yes to as many social invitations as possible and follow-through by actually attending.  this goal is necessary because I know I'll be happier if I can deepen the relationships I'm building here in Texas.
  • Stop spending so much time on facebook.  Day two of my facebook on the phone only restriction and I think it's going pretty well.  I ran into a Hollywood film director on the way home from work and really wanted to post about it on facebook, but I ended up texting a friend and then had an extra interaction with her.  So much better!
  • Maintain work-out schedule, at least 5x/week.  I feel so much better when I'm working out.  Luckily, I've been developing this habit for awhile and it's going well.
  • Practicing gratitude and rationalism toward A.  The idea here is to take action when I notice something that is about to cause me to have a mental "seriously?" moment.  I might find myself responding internally in any way to the pair of pants left on the floor or the knife in the jar of peanut butter left out on the desk.  In that case, I strive to remind myself of some things I'm really grateful for, like that A works such long hours for us, or that he makes great breakfasts.  I also try to be rational and "remove the plank from my own eye."  I note that I left makeup out all over the bathroom counter and the tea sitting unwashed in the tea kettle.  
  • Cook almost all our meals at home.  Eating out...so expensive, so unhealthy, such a great crutch for when you're tired or "want to do something."  This is a work in progress.  I think the antidote is planning.

X; O,

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