I have a show I watch when I want to feel good. My show is called Chuck, a series that ran about 10 years ago. It’s about a nerdy guy, Chuck, who teams up with a hot spy, Sara. The characters’ chemistry makes the show for me. I’m a sucker for the good guys and girls winning and following in love. When I’m finished watching I’m in a better mood.
My wife watches Ellen DeGeneres on her show Ellendaily. It raises my wife’s dopamine levels a little each day. Ellen makes people laugh, she uplifts the downtrodden on the world, and models how to be a nice person every show. She makes others want to be good people, too. Plus, she put my wife in a good mood, not an easy task. I admit watching Ellen Ellen DeGeneres walk out on stage puts a smile on my face, too, but not as much as watching Chuck.
Watching President Trump give the State of the Union address and Congresswoman Pelosi’s reactions, I couldn’t help but draw the analogy of a dysfunctional family, both of them trading unprofessional behaviors. They reminded me of an angry husband and wife or ex-husband and ex-wife acting badly.
Afterward, the news media fed the negative emotions to the viewers or readers by re-showing the insults. After all, it’s about getting an emotional reaction from viewers, isn’t it?
Does our leaders behavior increase the depression in our society? How does this help a nation already struggling to feel good about life? How can people learn to deal with this bombardment of negative emotion? How does one find joy in the election process when what we see is poor behavior from our country’s leaders?
I know, I’ve been there. I’ve been so hurt, so upset, and finally so angry by our leaders that I fed into the same negative talk. After all, I wanted to get my jabs in at the other side, as well, but I have learned no one wins in these negative battles and it certainly doesn’t make me feel better.
I for one have found three actions I can take that keeps sadness at bay and brings me back to more joy in my life during the election process.
1) I accept responsibility for my emotions.
No one can make me feel bad or negative. I have to allow that person’s negativity into my boundaries, my psyche. I chose the feeling. I alone chose the attitude for the action. I alone choose to read or watch something that feeds my negative spirit.
I alone allow someone’s actions or words to affect my mood. A favorite book that helped me understand this was Change Your Mind and Your Life Will Follow, by Karen Casey. Just reading this book when I get so upset by another’s words or actions calms me down.
The anger that festers inside me does not hurt anyone but me. That anger, annoyance or irritation I harbor from someone effects my health. It affects my relationships around me. I might think angry thoughts that turn into a snarky comment to some poor child or friend that happens to be in conversation with me. That may cause the other person to be infected by the negative energy and go on the defensive or worse say something negative to someone else because of my behavior.
I’m hurt! doesn’t that mean I can hurt them back? Yes, that’s one choice, but I don’t feel better and most times I feel worse.
Changing my attitude about the offense makes a difference. I try and look at it another way. If a two-year-old said the same thing to me, I might smile, laugh, at the very least I will not give that two-year-old power over me by reacting. I don’t change my attitude or feelings because of a baby. So, I will think of the offending person as a two-year-old child. Suddenly, my attitude has changed.
2) I Forgive
“The best thing to give to your enemy is forgiveness; to an opponent, tolerance . . .”
It helps when I forgive them. I don’t know the experiences that caused them to feel a certain way. I try to put myself in the other person’s shoes.
I don’t know who or what pushed his or her button, caused the hurt to make them act that way, and if that’s the case, I wish them more peace in their life.
I don’t know what fears drive the negative emotions. I wish them to feel calm and clarity.
3) I am Proactive
“Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself . . .”
For the longest time, I read Facebook messages that I saw were meant to make readers feel angry or fearful. I did not feed into the shark frenzy, but I didn’t do anything either.
I asked myself, “Am I part of the problem or part of the solution?”
Am I part of the problem feeding angry words to a divided society or am I part of the solution choosing my mindset to overcome the emotionally charged negative emotions and write constructive comments to mitigate the tension?
This is hard. I’m the type that avoids conflict, but I’m finding the courage to say something at the risk of becoming the target of negative energy.
I can do one of five things.
One, I post statistics or studies that prove a point when opinions run wild. My feeling is data talks a verbiage walks.
Two, in a neutral way I call out the person feeding negative emotions
I call the writing or depiction what it is: a post meant to rile people and feed their negative emotions. This has caused me to become the target of those individuals trying to stir up emotions, but I calmly restate my opinion and point out the emotionally charged language. Sometimes I call it “Word Vomit.” Hey, I’m not perfect.
Three, I thank people for posting information that helps me with informed choices.
Can I be proactive in this election year and stand up for decency in a dialog? Can I say or write something that will bring more positive emotions to the world? Can I model how to handle the insults, the words or actions meant to cause me to feel anger?
Four, I write a letter or email to a congressional leader.
Write the media and express concern about their choices of wording or articles. Use your dollars to avoid such media. Write to congressional leaders expressing your gratitude for the professional manner or your concern about their non-professional manner or encouraging them to bring civility back to civic duty.
Five, I get involved
I can get involved either with my money or my time to bring civility back to the world.
The Joy of choosing my response.
“Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man [or woman].”
There is a period of time between the stimulus and my response, where I decide how to respond. according to Steven Covey, an American author, speaker, and businessman who wrote The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Will I choose a negative response or a productive response? Bringing peace to the election process begins with me.
It’s not easy, but I am determined to speak out in my small way to quell the fire of anger and fear that depresses our nation.
I know these actions will help me feel more joy when I choose the right response.
There was a young married man that struggled to earn enough money to pay the living expenses for his young family. His job as a sales representative just did not pay the bills. His wife made a budget. They cut back to just the basics for living. Shopping at second hand stores. Eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for months, but it wasn’t enough. With their four-year old son and another one on the way, something had to give. His wife took odd jobs at home, to avoid daycare, but they both knew it was a matter of time before the bills would catch up with them.
The young man became depressed. He tried exercise, sports, support groups, but nothing helped. The key was still not enough income to cover the household bills.
Part of the problem was his unwillingness to leave his current job. It was comfortable. It was easy. Going to another job or another career was too scary. It was like taking a step into thin air. The fear of falling kept him stuck.
Finally, there was an opportunity that presented itself. It was cleaning windows. He hesitated to try for three reasons: First, he knew nothing about cleaning windows, Second, he felt it was beneath his status with his higher education to stoop to cleaning windows, but the biggest reason, was the windows reached 24 feet off the ground.
To help him decide he took out his wallet and looked at a picture of his wife and son, and then put it back in his pocket and told the manager he would take the job. He worked from 3 a.m. to 8 a.m. cleaning the windows on a ladder. Then he drove to his day job before going back to clean windows until dark. It took him three days to clean all the windows and in the end the manager paid him.
In that instant something switched in the young man. He felt euphoric. He had done something he never did before. He completed it. He got paid, but most of all he found something he really enjoyed doing. Who would have thought, he said to himself, that washing windows would be fun.
The young man went from depression to joy almost overnight, and he stayed that way for many years. He found out through taking a risk, he moved from feelings of depression to feelings of joy.
“When we avoid risk, we court depression,” says Julia Cameron in her book Walking in This World. “Depression is emotional quicksand. Once we get stuck, it’s hard to pull free. Our struggles exhaust us and depress us further. It is easier to avoid depression than overcome it, and yes, we avoid it by taking risks.”
It’s scary especially if one is skirting with depression because of avoiding risk. It took the young depressed man years before he took a risk out of his comfort zone and depression to risk something different like window cleaning. It was a risk that pulled him out of his depression and filled him with confidence and joy.
So how do people help their depressed selves to take risks that lead to more joy?
Here are three ways to help you take more risks.
There is a movie starring Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss called What about Bob? Where Bill Murray was so fearful and depressed about everything in life that he felt paralyzed with fear. Cocky psychologist Richard Dreyfuss tries to tell Bill Murray about “Baby Steps,” the idea of doing small actions to overcome fears or accomplish goals.
While the notion of “baby steps” disintegrated into hilarity in the movie, the philosophy is real and in Japan is known as the Kaizen, Sino-Japanese word for “improvement”. It’s philosophy is rooted in the two-thousand-year-old wisdom of the Tao Te Ching, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” and is used as a business productivity tool as well as personal development technique.
The idea in Kaizen is explained in the book One Small Step Can Change Your Life. The idea is to lower the “fight of flight” mechanism in the brain by accomplishing small, almost insignificant movements toward a goal that over time you see significant progress toward your goal or risk. Tip: When you think the action toward a goal is small enough, think smaller.
I know a painfully shy woman who wanted to go dancing. It depressed her that she stayed every night after work. So, she decided to take small steps toward her goal of dancing. She read about for a while, she studied the different places. She talked to people that danced and finally she went to a dance hall, but didn’t dance. She stayed a short while, then left. The next week she went back and stayed longer but did not dance. Finally, she went the next week and danced a few dances. A long story short, she now invites guys to go dancing with her and she goes a lot.
Find “Your People”
Imagine being around people that talk about “apples and oranges” but you like to talk about dogs. You try and fit in with their conversations. You put one a fake self. Say and listen to topics you dislike. You feel a your neck muscles tense, but you smile and nod your head. It’s hard to find common ground where you don’t “connect,” maybe it’s a work setting, maybe it friends that you have nothing in common with anymore. Talk about depressing.
Maybe you’ve grown or maybe the dynamics of the work or social setting has changed. One woman rejoined an organization she had belonged to years ago. She found the culture of the club had changed it wasn’t what she remembered it to be. She left after a few months. She felt depressed being in that circle of “friends”.
It’s okay to accept that not everyone will “get you.” Seek out people that do connect with you. Ask someone to coffee, join or create a Meetup, talk to lots of people. Eventually, you will find yourself in conversation with someone where your shoulders relax, your neck tension leaves, you laugh and smile in conversation. The conversation moves from small talk to deeper conversations to something more meaningful.
These people can help you take risks; hold you accountable; share their experience; connect you to people that can help you.
If you are a writer, start a Shut Up & Write in your area. You to talk to a lot of people before you find the ones you can call your writer buddies that keep you honest and hold you accountable. They are ones that can help you, support you, and be there for you as you step out of your comfort zone and risk being vulnerable.
Motivational speaker Jim Rohn said “You’re the average of the five people you spend most of your time with.” If those people are risk averse, chances are it will be tough to try and risk something new. If they are doers, you’re more likely to be a doer. Find “your people” that are doers.
A Medal of Honor recipient who spoke to an audience of 300 high school students about his courage under fire told that he was more fearful at that moment than any time in his life and the only thing that made him step out from his safe position to go save his buddies was love. “I loved those guys and it was love that pushed me to do what I did.”
Love is a powerful force. It pushes people to do stupid things but also brave things. To the young window washer take a risk to do a job he never considered, he looked at a picture of his wife and son to draw strength to push himself. To others it was to finally loving themselves enough to push pass the fear and try.
Love, don’t underestimate its power to effect positive change in one’s life. It moved a young dad to risk trying something new and brought him great joy.
Just a few ideas to encourage risk, that effects change, and brings joy.
My mood ranked near an all-time low when my wife and I drove to see our middle son’s family for a Sunday visit.
“I don’t think I can do this today,” I told her as I pulled up in front of their house.
Karen offered me words of encouragement to go in, but I started the car and pulled away from the curb. I felt so sad, a sadness I could not understand. She continued her soft tones, her words of encouragement, and as she spoke, I felt there was more to her words. I could tell from her tone she needed to see the granddaughters for her own health and wellness.
I drove around the block and parked in front of the house, again.
I’m glad I did.
My sullenness changed the moment I set my eyes on the 16-month old granddaughter in blue jeans and suspenders. She flashed me a smile every time she looked at me while eating a cupful of blueberries one at a time. She didn’t say anything except “more” meaning more blueberries. I felt joy in that moment like never before.
Now I’m not the doting grandfather this makes me out to be, but in that moment seeing that toddler just did something to change my sour disposition.
Karen noticed my mood change, too, and she was thankful it stayed our entire visit and even after we left.
What is it about observing a person, place, thing or situation that automatically changes a person from one mood to the next? What triggers it? For me, I’m a sucker for a genuine smile. I love creative clothing — kudos to my son for his choice in dressing her in suspenders, but there was more to it that I couldn’t put my finger on and maybe I never will.
Even the next day I smiled at the thought of that granddaughter, and I realized I needed to remember more moments that bring joy to my heart, catch them and hold them dear like a precious stone.
I looked back at other days and if I thought about it, I could find specific people, places, things or events that brought joy to me. It didn’t have to be a big event or one that costs lots of money.
No, more often it was something little or simple that sparked joy in my day.
For Christmas a daughter-in-law gave me a memory book titled One Line a Day: a five-year memory book. I wrote a memory each day starting January 1. I started writing about people, places and events that happened that day, like I was writing a news article, but this didn’t bring me joy.
I changed my one line a day memory book after spending time with my granddaughter. I now find at least one thing in my day that gave me joy.
My one-sentence memories could be as simple as a smile from a crossing guard, a tree bursting with golden leaves, or a three-inch thick sandwich. I know a sandwich is a stretch but it brought me Joy.
It doesn’t matter what or who it is that sparks my joy or how large or small the event, I will write the memory of the joy in my memory book and just maybe on my really blue days I can look back through the book and ignite the joy once again. I know the memory of our granddaughter in blue jeans and suspenders will always bring a smile to my face.
When I first married, I felt such joy, peace and love in my spirit. I thanked God for bringing Karen into my life and a part of my life. It was a time of new beginnings and the world felt so ripe for our new venture.
Two years later those feelings of joy of living disappeared, replaced with anxiety of responsibilities. We bought a house; we had our first son; we experienced too much debt and not enough income, too many things to worry about.
Suddenly, I wasn’t sleeping. Fearful thoughts settled in my brain like a bad cold: Will we lose our house? How can I make more money? Is our son okay? Can we get the roof leaks fixed by winter? These and many more ruminations constantly plagued me.
Each day I felt more negative emotions building. We prayed. We held each other. We took solace in each other’s company, but it wasn’t enough.
Then one day I stood in our backyard among our six walnut trees and something strange happened. Just that moment standing among the green and gold leaves waving in the Fall breeze I felt an immense peace of mind almost euphoric. Suddenly, all my negative emotions left me, replaced by a strong warmth and peace.
I recognized that I wasn’t worrying about the future. I wasn’t dwelling on past mistakes. I thought of only the present moment. I didn’t do it consciously. It just happened.
We still had money troubles and a child to raise, but for the time I stayed thinking only of the present, I felt like I was in heaven on this earth, feeling I can only describe as joy.
It would be years later I’d learn about mindfulness, about the dangers and evils of trying to control a certain future or dwelling on the past.
Most times the thoughts that stay with me are scary like “What will happen when my job is gone for good?” I envision all sorts of terrible scenarios. Thoughts that made me afraid. Thoughts that made me upset about something I did or did not do or have. Thoughts about goals and accomplishing these goals. My meditation helps me clear my focus and just think about the present moment and I’m filled with an incredible peace of mind. It’s funny sometimes I hear a tiny voice say, “Welcome back.”
Through meditation, I never noticed how much my mind pulled me into negative emotions of the future or the passed or how much I resented a person’s opinion on a topic. I became aware of just how these thoughts control my thinking. It was like traffic on a road, the thoughts zip by, slow down and sometime stop long enough for me to really look at what I’m thinking.
When I concentrate on what is in this moment and I appreciate all that I have this moment Joy comes to my heart no matter what my fears, regrets or annoyances.
The present moment is not easy place to stay. It is like a tightrope, a narrow window of timelessness. It take lots of practice for me to stay present and not let the thoughts about what happened in the past or what might happen in the future shake the joy I feel in the present moment.
Many books discuss the present moment. Some of my favorites include, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, by Dan Millman and The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. The one book that really stands out that surprised me is The Biophilia Effect by Clemens G. Arvay. Translated from German, it offers evidence to support the benefits of being in and around nature. I’ve always felt a sense of peace being around trees. I feel most in the present moment when I gaze at trees or a tree. Strange, I know, but I feel such peace in this activity. This book attempts to show empirical evidence of these benefits.
Beside books, phone apps offer help to get to the present moment. My personal favorite is Headspace. It helps clear thought traffic from my mind, too. There are others but ironically, one that will remain nameless caused me more stress with its billing than the benefit received from the app.
May we all find joy in the present moment no matter what our worries. We deserve the break.
Ever feel that spark of joy when you see a certain someone? It could be a coworker, a friend, a casual acquaintance. It doesn’t matter who. You just feel yourself smile inside and your muscles relax in your neck and shoulders. Something about that person makes you feel joyful inside.
Science shows that people in our lives matter when it comes to feeling joy. The friendly interaction with other people releases 0xytocin, a hormone secreted by the posterior lobe of the pituitary gland, into our system which calms the “fear center” in our brain” and helps decrease stress, anxiety or depressive thoughts. The Oxytocin secretion by the brain also boosts the serotonin, what’s been called the “happy hormone.” All of this leads me to joy.
Lately, I wondered about the people in my life that spark joy in me. Who do I come in contact with that brings joy to me and others? What is it they do that makes me feel joy?
I reflected back on my friendships and conversations and came up with my top ten ways people spark joy in my life:
They are comfortable in their own skin.
They speak with a passion and confidence about life.
They speak with openness and honesty.
They present themselves in a positive manner.
Their conversation flows with mine.
They smile a lot.
They make me laugh.
They speak in uplifting or calm tones.
After looking at ways people make me feel joy, I reflected on those “people” traits that make me feel nothing or defensive:
They point out my faults
They catch me in a mistake
They speak with sarcasm
They present a defensive body language or wording.
They say negative things about others behind their back.
They voice their opinions without prompting
They intimidate me, whether or not it is real or just in my head
They tell a lie
They converse in a negative manner
They speak in un-meaningful conversations.
This “joy” checklist is far from complete and contains my judgement on what people bring joy to my life.
What are your top ten things in a person that spark joy in you?
I sat at my desk last night reading and listening to music on Spotify when a song came on I haven’t heard in years. The song “Ooh La La” by Faces piped through the speaker and just made me smile. My spirit soared.
I started connecting joy and music and wondered why I never thought about music as a way to help me raise my mood. Was it just me or is there a stronger connection for everyone?
It turns out science found there is a connection between music and raising one’s level of joy and happiness in life.
Research scientists found that listening to music, one finds enjoyable, releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain associated with rewards such as food, drugs and sex.
The study from The Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital – The Neuro at McGill University revealed that even the anticipation of pleasurable music induces the dopamine release in the body. Dopamine is sometimes referred to as the “feel-good” hormone.
It perplexes science because music has no tangible benefit. The intense degree of pleasure associated with listening to music remains a mystery. Music has no clear biological value like food or sex, drugs, money, or no addictive rewards like gambling, alcohol, or nicotine, yet music consistently ranks among the top ten things people find highly pleasurable, according to the research article The Rewarding Aspects of Music Listening Are Related to Degree of Emotional Arousal by Mitchel Benovoy, Gregory Longo, Jeremy R. Cooperstock, Valorie N. Salimpoor, and Robert J. Zatorre
The researches monitored the recipients’ levels of dopamine, found people that listened to music they found enjoyable raised their dopamine level.
So, if you ever need to boost the joy and happiness in your life, you don’t have to look any farther than your music station, CD, or Spotify, Pandora, or Amazon Music Stations. It takes only 15 minutes listening to a music list that you love to give you that natural high.
The researches monitored the recipients levels of dopamine, found people that listened to music they found enjoyable raised their dopamine level.
So, if you are ever need to boost the joy and happiness in your life, you don’t have to look any farther than your music station, CD, or Spotify, Pandora, or Amazon Music Stations. It takes only 15 minutes listening to a music list that you love to give you that natural high.
There was on a comic strip that has stuck with me the last 40 years. The first frame showed a young man sitting at his office desk saying, “I only make $25,000 a year. If I could make $50,000 a year, then I would be happy.” In the second frame the now middle-man explains, “Now I make $50,000 a year and I’m still not happy.” The last third frame shows that same man standing, pointing his finger to the sky and saying, “But! if I made $100,000, then I would be happy.”
The research shows money does make you happy. According to the psychologist at Purdue University and the University of Virginia, the ideal income for the optimal, peak happiness is now $95,000 a year and after that much money, the degree of happiness starts to decline.
That much money is earned by less than one percent of the world. Does that mean the other 99% of the world’s population is not happy?
When you can’t have the money to make you happy, what works to make people happy if they don’t have money?
Try these ten to raise your level of happiness:
Kindness: Studies show being kind to people even in little ways or volunteering to help raises one’s level of happiness.
Friendship: People with strong connections to friends and family, people they can talk and laugh with are happier, healthier people.
Time: Finding time for yourself is another proven method of raising one’s happiness level.
Exercise: Endorphins improve our mood through exercise. Regular exercise has shown to have many benefits and making use feel happier is one of them. But, not just any exercise. Choose an exercise you enjoy. I personally love swimming laps. I feel so good after that. What would be your form of exercise?
Nature: Have you ever sat and watch the rolling ocean waves, the swaying trees in a breeze or looked out at a vast expanse like hills, valleys, oceans or sky. Or, maybe you prefer watching a small bird flying, a flower about to bloom, or some other nature’s flora or fauna.
Fun: Don’t underestimate fun. When was the last time you had fun? What were you doing? I like dancing. I would take myself to a place to dance.
Acquaintances: According to an abstract in the Personality and Social Psychology bulletin studies show that even short interactions with acquaintances can boost your happiness level, so get out and smile at people.
Now: Stay in the “now.” The only thing we have is the present moment. Looking back at the past can bring on regrets or longings. Looking toward the future can bring on fear, anxiety, and stress. The present is all we have and where peace and contentment can be found.
Sleep: Ever not get a good night sleep and wake up feeling wonderful? Yeah, me neither. A good night’s sleep is a mood changer for the better, according to research.
Meditation: Does your mind control you or do you control your mind? Meditation can help reign in your thoughts with just a few simple techniques.
Music: Belt out one of your old favorite songs (no breakup songs) or listen to your favorite music. Studies show it raises your wellbeing (happiness level.)
Notice that none of these have to do with money. Almost anything can be done for free to raise one’s level of happiness.
We’ll look at these and more over the next few weeks to find out what makes people happy.