As a psychology major, I was eager to read this week’s book: Happy at Last by Dr. Richard O’Conner. It was very interesting to read his perspective on happiness because he is not only a therapist, but he is also a person who is clinically depressed. Even with his condition, he is able to experience happiness on a daily basis and I loved reading his commentary on the subject.
O’Conner makes the point that it is unnatural for humans to be happy. We are victims of the hedonic treadmill, in which we are always wanting more because we are evolved to adapt quickly. He also states that our fast paced Western society is not suitable for cultivating happiness because we are mindlessly going about our day without enjoying the little splendors of life. And the last threat to our happiness that O’Conner makes note of? Consumerism and materialism. Advertising teaches us that buying “the new car” or “that little black dress” will solve all our problems. Yet when the newness wears off, we are left with nothing but buyer’s remorse and an empty wallet.
The good news: our brains can physically change. That’s right. It was previously thought that brain cells cannot be recreated but studies now show that brain cells can develop, change, and form new neural pathways when new behaviors are practiced. This means that every time we try a new behavior, it will get easier as dendritic cells form new connections. Not only does this mean an increase in will power and self esteem, it also means an increase in happiness if we are making a daily attempt to be happier people. The same goes for going to the gym, eating less sweets, or being friendlier- practice becomes habit as the brain becomes more familiar with the behavior.
So what can we do to be happier people? Dr. O’Connor suggests mindfulness. This means that instead of judging and punishing ourselves for our thoughts and behaviors, we care for ourselves with compassionate curiosity. He also admits that while we all will undoubtedly experience pain, it does not mean that we have to suffer by wallowing in our situation. Time heals all wounds and we can choose how we approach a situation.
6 Choices You Can Make to be Happier from Dr. O’Conner:
1. Spend an hour every day for yourself. Spend 30 of those minutes exercising and the other 30 either meditating or reading a good book.
2. Happiness comes in small packages. Use your senses to notice the little things in life that bring you happiness; the melting of frozen yogurt in your mouth or the smell of the salty sea air.
3. Before you go to sleep every night think of three things you are either grateful for, made you happy, or were the best memories of the day.
4. Experience flow with your work. This means being deeply engaged in task in which you lose self-consciousness.
5. Do activities that are out of the house, involve other people, and require physical activity. Staying in the house and being solitary and sedentary will make you feel lethargic and bored; though there are exceptions, of course.
6. Cultivate your friendships and intimate relationships. These bring you the most satisfaction out of life. Give someone a special surprise, hug, or compliment today!