I’ve decided to make, or rather I have the intention of making, happiness my business. Or, I’m making it my business to make happy. With business I’m not talking the money making kind but rather the nosy, sticky-beak kind.
In the past month or so I’ve digested a huge amount of information related to our fight or flight response not only because I’ve spent the past two and a half years in a very intimate relationship with it as you do when you suffer from an anxiety disorder. It’s made me realize that it’s not only highly anxious people that spend a lot of time being intimate with it; we all do.
Fighting the fight or flight responses is interesting business not only because it can bring calm to the anxious prone but also because when you successfully manage to do it you actually become happy. It’s the unexpected side-effect that we all want to the full-time effect of just living our lives.
So, it’s captured my imagination, it’s taken up residence in my mind and it’s become very dear to my heart and I now suffer from a strong wish to share some of the things I’ve found along the way with you so that you perhaps can be a little happier too.
We can all make happy.
You and I.
Sounds too simple? Yeah, I know.
The simple truth is that we can’t modify the whole world to our taste but what we can do is to change our mind and if we change our mind we change the way we experience the world and kind of create our own reality. We can change our own perception of the world by concentrating on something different.
So, we want to concentrate on being happy? Not deliriously happy but, you know, being contently kind of happy most of the time.
A selfish happiness can’t be the goal. A constant preoccupation with self and self-happiness is a kind of torment in itself because you’re vulnerable to everything that happens around you. It’s like having a thousand balls bouncing around in a very small space that you’re in. You’re going to get hit by bouncing balls over and over. When you focus on the bigger space, on other people and on the world, the space those balls have to bounce around in is much bigger and you’re not going to get hit by the balls with the same frequency, and it won’t be so much of a bother; the impact is lessened and you’re ability to remain happy increases.
What you want is to develop a state of mind that can withstand those pesky ups and downs of life that are inevitable so that you become less dependent and less vulnerable to your own emotions and feelings as they relate to the ups and downs. The state of mind you want exists independent of your emotions and feelings but it’s already in you. All you have to do is find it, cultivate it and nurture it so it can grow strong.
It’s much easier to be happy when you’re child especially before the age of two when you start developing a sense of self. Children recover from disappointment a lot quicker. They don’t have the same expectations of life that adults do. They don’t sit around and think that life is unfair for not giving them this or that, and they’re able to forgive life for not living up to expectations.
By the time we get to adulthood we’ve been knocked around, we’re a bit dented and scratch, and more importantly we’ve been taught to expect things of life and others. We’ve formed all sorts of expectations and if you look closely you see that the dents and bumps are really those expectations. If you start working on modifying or getting rid of the expectations you have of life or others delivering you this or that so you can be happy you become less dented and scratched, and you’re going to find it easier to be happy.
So, what happens when you are wronged by someone and they’ve hurt you? You’re not expected just to shrug and go “Meh!”, are you?
When you’ve been hurt you have to spend time grieving. You have to give yourself that time. It’s when you allow yourself to keep that grieving process going for prolonged periods and it becomes a grievance you’re holding onto that you’re allowing yourself to suffer needlessly. There’s some trade off in holding onto the thought that someone who’s wronged you is going to die a horrible death as a result of it, and preferably going through hell getting there, but it does nothing for your own happiness. Your own happiness involves you letting go of the hurt and grief, and allowing yourself to move on to think better more nourishing thoughts.
But it’s normal to feel that way you argue? Sure it is! Most of us feel and react that way but the fact that it’s normal doesn’t make it optimal, and wouldn’t you rather have optimal than this mediocre normal state?
You want to be happy, right? Yes? So do I! That’s why I've made it my business to be happy.
Everything is beautiful, or ugly, when you shine a light on it. The kind of light doesn’t matter; it’s where you shine it. Wouldn’t you rather shine a light on your own happiness?
OK, so it’s normal but you want to get to optimal. What do you have to do? What is, simply put, some of the things you have to do start moving towards optimal?
The first thing most of us have to learn is self-soothing. I talked about the fight or flight response. It’s there to protect you but unchecked it will go off and try to protect from things that are no biggie, and they’re no biggie because they’re not a threat to your life, to your ego perhaps but not to your life.
When the fight or flight response, or the nervous system, kicks in you feel it. Your heart rate is alleviated. Your breathing becomes rapid. You tense up. Your mind’s racing. You’re not thinking clearly. You’re ready to wage war at the drop of a hat.
You don’t need to be in that state, you need to get out of if, and the way to do that is to get the parasympathetic nervous system to kick in. What is the parasympathetic nervous system? It’s the anti-dote to the fight or flight response; it’s calm and it’s being able think clearly.
The easiest way to get the parasympathetic nervous system to kick in, or to self-soothe if you like, is to take deep, slow breaths. It’s the kind of breath that fills your stomach with air and you feel the body responding to it by relaxing almost instantly. The deep, slow breath roundhouse kicks the fight or flight response in the face leaving it in a heap unconscious on the ground and you’re free to think again. That’s what you want, right? The pain of suffering is….not nice. Feeling relaxed and closer to optimal is nice. You’re on your way there now that you have the faculty of clear thinking back and your body is not all tense and wound up.
So, the first skill to master on the path to a more consistent state of being happy is the skill of self-soothing and an easy way to self-soothe is to kick start the arasympathetic nervous system by taking a few deep, slow breath. Try it! Try it when now when you’re not in right in the middle of the fight or flight response so that your mind start getting used to using this technique. It is not going to be the first thing that comes to mind when you’re fight or flight response kicks in unless you practice, right? You want to become your own personal, professional soother and you can do it with this highly portable technique.
What are you still doing here? Go breathe! Deep and slow!