Reporting from an undisclosed location in the USSA…
“One of the most important things we can do,” Dr. Axe said last week at The Truth About Cancer Symposium, “is start to remove that interference of emotions that we’ve experienced in our past.”
Last week, as you may know, I attended The Truth About Cancer Symposium. And time and again, from several of the speakers, the importance of emotional health kept coming up.
Dis-ease in the body is linked to a lot of things. But at root, and at the root of so much of our self-destructive behavior, is our emotional state.
Whether we’d like to admit it or not, we are emotional creatures. And the more we try to repress certain emotions, the more they rear their heads in twisted and unseemly ways. And, if left unchecked, the more they contribute to things like addiction, depression and indifference.
Everyone needs an outlet. Especially for those emotions buried reeeeaal deep.
For some people, meditation has been a godsend and completely changed their lives. For others it has been unconventional “emotional therapy” techniques like EFT, based on the same ideas as acupuncture (see below). And, of course, others thrive on lots of exercise and a good diet, which both have been shown over and over again to be nature’s BEST anti-depressants.
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Modern medicine tends to take a very mechanistic view of the body, often deeming our emotions as irrelevant to our general health. Chinese, Greek and other more traditional forms of medicine, though, believed otherwise. Fortunately, our current model seems to be catching up.
“When emotional trauma goes unhealed,” Dr. Veronique Desaulniers writes, “the body system is in a constant state of heightened stress. Numerous studies have connected stress with lower immune function and higher incidences of disease in general.”
According to Dr. Axe, going further, certain emotions are linked to certain organs. Which is why, when a child is scared, they sometimes pee, because fear is linked to the kidneys. Or when someone is nervous, the heart flutters, because anxiety affects the heart.
And so on…
“If somebody has fear of failure,” Dr. Axe went on, “somebody has fear of disappointing a loved one, just fear in their life, it’s going to affect, we know, certain organs in the body. So I really think that one of the most important things we can do is really work on being grateful, building peace in our lives, getting ourselves to the place where we really work on setting ourselves free emotionally.”
Here’s a simple 2-second trick that’ll have you feeling better in no time: Throw your TV out of the window.
“You know,” Dr. Axe went on, “the media’s a big problem. The media doesn’t support that. They are so much into fear-mongering, into creating low self-esteem into people that it’s really important that all of us go back and start knowing our identity, and knowing who we are.”
Today, to help you not just survive in this crazy (yet, albeit, beautiful) world, but also to thrive, we present to you Dr. Axe’s How to Be Happy guide.
[Sidenote: Admittedly, I think happiness is hopelessly overrated. That’s not to say you shouldn’t take care of yourself with the incredibly effective steps below. But, if you’re taking care of yourself only because you want to “find happiness,” you’re missing the plot. I’ll elaborate on why I think happiness is overrated, with the help of the inimitable Hunter S. Thompson, in tomorrow’s episode. Stay tuned.]
Below, you’ll discover 15 steps to living a happier, healthier, and, yes, freer existence.
Challenge: Try one a day for the next 15 days and see how you feel.
[Ed. note: I saw Dr. Axe speak at The Truth About Cancer Symposium last week. If you missed it, the TTAC team is replaying the entire event for FREE all weekend. Don’t miss it. Click here to sign up and get your FREE ticket to the replay.]
How to Be Happy Guide
Moving toward our own “upward spiral” of happiness, here are 15 steps we can all take to be happier each and every day:
1. Choose to be Grateful
It may seem cheesy, but gratitude is a part of being happy that you have complete control over. It is so easy to complain about all the little things out of your control that frustrate you, especially if you work around a job with other people complaining about the same things.
Instead, focus on the things you can control. Start with your own thoughts!
Try spending 5 minutes every morning saying or writing down everything you are grateful for. Or try thanking God for everything you have. Just fostering gratitude opens up places of joy for all that you have walked through and all the blessings that you have.
This practice also helps bring attention to the things you are thankful for in your life that are going well. It’s easy to focus on the negatives sometimes; even research supports that “like any emotional state, feelings of joy, gratitude, interest, and contentment typically last only a matter of minutes…moreover, positive emotions are less intense and less attention-grabbing than negative emotions and are more quickly to diffuse”.
Being swept up in financial worries, a struggling relationship, or a health concern is far too common, but when we make a point to reflect on what we do have, we reap the many mood-lifting benefits of gratefulness. Studies have shown that by practicing forming “gratitude lists”, we can actually noticeably alleviate worry and boost our mood. Aim to do gratefulness practice every day if you can, either in the morning or before bed. Finding the “extraordinary in the ordinary” can lead to some serious positive changes in your life.
“Gratitude is an important human strengths that contributes to subjective happiness. Grateful individuals are especially appreciative of the contribution of others to their happiness… Results imply reciprocal relationships among gratitude, subjective happiness, and good social relationships. Consequently, compared with unhappy people, happy people report close and satisfying relationships and feel more gratitude in their lives.”
-Study “Happy People Become Happier Through Kindness” (4)
2. Choose to Forgive
We know from studies that a major cause of depression stems from a lack of forgiving others. When we hold resentment or anger against someone that we haven’t yet forgiven, we are stuck in the past. One of the key traits that leads to happiness is living in the present moment as much as possible, instead of harping on uncontrollable events that have already taken place. If forgiveness is holding you back from experiencing joy here and now, then it’s time to release the anger you’re holding.
Ask yourself, is there anyone that I haven’t forgiven?
Even yourself? Sometimes, even if we have forgiven someone in our mind, it takes a few times of practice to really forgive them in our hearts. Forgiveness isn’t just forgetting, but actually release them from a debt that they may truly owe us.
However, as they say refusing to forgive is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Unforgiveness actually seeds bitterness into your heart and can lead to unhappiness. Is any grudge worth damaging your own life and happiness?
Who is it that you need to forgive and let go of, so that you can move on and live your life to the fullest?
Choose to forgive and see how it can impact your own feelings of joy and gratefulness. Also forgiveness is an act of kindness. Kindness towards others takes us out of our own mind and away from our own worries, plus it’s also contagious and usually leads to even more kindness.
If you tend to be shy, often keep to yourself, or don’t know where you could potentially be of service, start small and keep in mind that every kind act and positive intention counts.
3. Use Positive Words
Whether you are talking to yourself or others, the words you say and think have power. As it says in the Bible,
“The power of life and death is in the tongue…”
– (Proverbs 18:21)
Neuroscientist Andrew Newberg, M.D., has been doing studies that actually prove this is true – that words can literally change your brain.
He studied the brain and the effects of the spoken word or thoughts and found that even a single negative word increases activity in the amygdala, or the fear center of our brain. The body begins to release stress hormones and neurotransmitters that interrupt your brains normal activity. (5)
Angry words, shut down the functioning ability of the frontal lobe which moderates logic and reasoning centers. Prolonged exposure to negative people or your own negative words, really can effect your ability to experience and expect joy and happiness in the brain.
However, when speaking positive words, or even holding a positive word (like love, peace, joy, etcetera) in your mind, activates the frontal lobe and the motor cortex which can move you into action. (5) The longer you are focused on positive things, the better the rest of your brain functions. So choose to use life-giving words even in your own thoughts about yourself!
4. Encourage Others
By being happier we become contagious to those around us and demonstrate what joy is all about. And this will always overflow into the lives of the people around you. If you are happier, then you are looking at the good instead on the bad, and you can declare the good you see in others!
Practice recognizing the best qualities that others around you have to offer, instead of focusing on their flaws. Show appreciation and respect for the good things that your family, coworkers, and friends do for you each and every day, and ultimately encourage them to seek out happiness for themselves.
While it seems that encouraging others is a selfless act, being motivating and kind to those around you actually has benefits for your own happiness too. As studies suggest, “happiness is increased simply by counting one’s own acts of kindness”. (6) Therefore paying someone a compliment, giving them a confidence boost, and recognizing their accomplishments can make your day, in addition to theirs!
“A strong correlation exists between the well-being, happiness, health, and longevity of people who are emotionally and behaviorally compassionate”.
-A study on “Altruism, happiness, and health: it’s good to be good” (7)
5. Be Intentional with Your Time
Make a quick list of how you currently spend your time each day: watching TV, time spent with family, working, exercising, etc. Write these activities down and estimate how many hours you are putting effort towards these things daily. Now write down a list of the top five things that are most important to you. How do your two lists compare? What are you spending time focusing on that isn’t serving your higher purpose, priorities, and goals?
The most successful people in the world learn how to let their schedule reflect their truest priorities. If you can switch out 30 minutes of TV watching each day with 30 minutes of “you” time- maybe by taking a relaxing walk, cooking a new recipe, or reading an inspirational book- imagine how different your week would wind up feeling? Rewrite your schedule so that your day looks proportional to your values.
Practicing time management in this way, by eliminating wasteful activities and blocking off dedicated time for the things that make you happiest, is a great way to feel more joy each and every day.
“The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.”
― Michael Altshuler
6. Make a “Bucket List”
Make a list of all of the things you’ve always wanted to do, but have been putting off for one reason for another. Interested in paddle boarding? Always wanted to try snorkeling? Prioritize the things that bring you joy and make a point to do the activities that are novel to you and would help bring you feelings of excitement and happiness, even if they seem small and trivial.
When we write down our goals it makes them real. So write down your goals for the things you want to do and write down tangible steps you want to take each week, month or quarter to make this “bucket list” items a reality.
As research points out, small feelings of joy add up and create a bigger sense of happiness, so don’t neglect the little things that bring a sense of accomplishment and a smile to your face.
Take a risk, meet some new interesting people, and throw a bit of caution-to-the-wind if you need to. As studies tell us, “very happy people are more extraverted, more agreeable, and less neurotic” (8). So don’t fear trying something new that could help you to be happier!
“It’s not how much we have, but how much we enjoy, that makes us happy.”
7. Examine Your “Inner Circle”
Choose your friends and who influences you! Write down 5 people who make you better and 3 people who may be holding you back in life. Schedule time with those 5 positive people who are encouraging you and adding happiness to your life, and simultaneously choose to give less time to the 3 people who are deflating your life.
“He who walks with the wise, will be become wise, but the companion of fools suffers harm.”
– Proverbs 13:20
The people who you keep close will have a huge impact on your life. Choose friends that will hold you accountable, be honest with you, and encourage you towards your goals and dreams. When you share your time with people that build you up and encourage you, then you can build lasting relationships. These relationships contribute directly to true happiness.
Studies show us that “happy people that have better social relationships have more pleasant everyday lives. For example, very happy people have highly satisfying relationships with friends, romantic partners, and family members and that, compared to their less happy peers, they report more positive events and emotions in their daily lives relative to negative ones.”(9)
Put your energy towards building meaningful deep relationships, even if it means having fewer of them. Fill your inner circle with those who radiate positivity and lift you higher, bringing you feelings of happiness on an ongoing basis.
8. Getting Moving!
Start doing whatever type of exercise you enjoy and can stick with for more than a few weeks. Whether that be weight training, burst training, running, crossfit, barre, pilates or group fitness classes, whatever type will get you to stay more physically active is a good option. My favorite is Burstfit, but anything that gets you moving and keeps you moving is great!
Remember bodies in motion stay in motion!
Exercise can really boost your overall mindset; studies have shown that physical activity causes your body to increase HGH and endorphins, which help to improve your mood and self-esteem. Research shows us that staying inactive can lead to increased feelings of unhappiness, while regularly exercising does the opposite. (10) (11)
Keep moving and trying new types of exercises until you find something that brings you positive feelings and seems maintainable for you long-term.
9. Get Inspired!
The most successful people in the world spend time bettering themselves every day. Whether it is reading a book, magazine articles, or listening to motivational podcasts, find out what inspires you and include it in your routine!
Aiming to dedicate 30 minutes every day to reading an inspirational book or message of some sort is an excellent way to feel happier.
Reading can also take our mind off of problems that are filling us with worry and can also introduce us to new useful concepts and ideas. By reading another person’s viewpoint, we are able to open our minds, to see someone else’s viewpoint, and to be reminded that we are not alone in any problem we may be facing.
I try to make reading some sort of personal growth text a daily habit, so I can keep my focus on the important things in life and my intentions in line with my larger goals and purpose. Some of my favorite inspirational authors are John Maxwell, Tony Robbins and Andy Stanley.
10. Find and Follow Your Purpose
Start exploring why you are here on earth. Ask questions about yourself:
What is it that you love to do?
What activities make you feel your best?
What do people love best about you?
Whether by taking personality profiles, or trying new hobbies, it is part of the journey of life to discover what we were designed to do. There is a plan and purpose for your life and a reason for you to be here. Isn’t it time to discover what that is?
What is your life’s true, deeper purpose and what legacy and impact do you want to have on the world? Your purpose could be to serve orphans, to raise great children, or to help cure diseases for example; whatever it is, focus in on what actions you can take to move towards this higher purpose.
It can be easy to get off track and to lose sight of the bigger picture, focusing on our small day-to-day obligations, and forgetting what the end goal really is. It takes some self-control to go after our true purpose and to stay focused over time, but the end result is an enormous sense of accomplishment and ongoing motivation to stick with higher goals.
“The purpose of life is to discover your gift. The meaning of life is to give your gift away.”
11. Focus on Being the Solution
Focusing on helping to solve other’s problems- and not ruminating on your own – is one of the best ways to feel happier.
Serving others is an important two-fold practice: it brings more happiness to the lives of those who we serve, and we also feel more positive and joyful ourselves when we help other people, therefore we are able to deal with our own issues better.
Look at some of the great helpers of the world, like Mother Teresa for example; she had almost no material possessions, but was full of joy.
As researchers conclude,
“Kindness and gratitude bear close relations with subjective happiness…Happy people not only desire to be kind, but they are also more attuned to the recognition of kindnesses, and more likely to behave in kind ways”.
-A study on “Happy People Becoming Happier Though Kindness” (12)
12. ACT Now!
What are 3 things that you know you need to do or want to do, but haven’t? Write down the 3 most important goals you want to accomplish, and then next to each goal list the top 3 things that are causing you to stall.
If procrastination keeps you from going after your goals, make a plan to drop any excuses and to start being more actionable. Write down concrete steps and a timeline for what steps you will take and when you will do them. If you want to get a degree, then set dates for how long you want to save, what you want to research, or when you will fill out your application. Make short, meaningful, realistic steps and check them off as you accomplish them!
Part of setting goals (and where many people get stuck) is overcoming obstacles. So it is good to think about the hurdles as well. How can you overcome the delays you are experiencing? At what step are you consistently getting stuck?
Does it mean shifting around your schedule or seeking help from someone more experienced than you are? Uncertainty about your next step and feeling ill-prepared are common, but it’s important to keep making progress toward your goals with the tools you have right now. Why wait for tomorrow when you can start today!.
“If you wait for perfect conditions, you’ll never get anything done”
– (Ecclesiastes 11:4 LB)
13. Tell Your Money Where to Go
For many of us, we have become accustomed to living in debt. Whether we buy a car, house or want to buy a great Christmas gift, we have been taught to rely on our credit rather than money we actually have to purchase and to live. This creates a burden that will hang over your head all of the time!
Dave Ramsey said, “You must gain control over your money, or the lack of it will forever control you.”
And he’s right.
Financial problems are one of the biggest causes of depression in the world today. Put money in its proper place and start to track your budget more closely. Maybe you will notice you’re spending a large amount of your income on wasteful purchases that don’t ultimately bring you any closer to experiencing happiness?
Look back at the lists you made of how you most like to spend your time and what your top 3 goals are; now think about whether or not your current spending habits are supporting those activities and goals or not.
Keeping spending in check takes some self-control, but it can really pay off down the road. Studies show us that “self-control may boost well-being by helping people avoid frequent conflict and to balance vice-virtue conflicts by favoring virtues.
Self-control positively contributes to happiness through avoiding and dealing with motivational conflict”. (13) Ask yourself what you can do to practice more self-control around money and to give yourself the best chance of avoiding added stress that comes from accumulating debt.
14. Go on a Mission Trip or Support a Mission
Billions of people around the world need help every single day. You can literally be a hero to someone and save someone’s life by
volunteering your time or resources to a charitable cause. There are endless ways to help support different missions: you can volunteer to help a cause like those that provide clean water to populations in need, one that fights for animal rights, supports children living in impoverished areas, and many more.
Whatever mission it is that resonates with you most, there is a way to help support it. Going on a mission trip is an excellent way to meet other people who have similar values and passions as you do, so you can build up your inner circle with even more supportive and encouraging like-minded people. But if a mission trip is not a possibility for you, keep in mind there is plenty you can do within your very own home town to help others. Think about your own strengths and knowledge- what can you do to help others through your natural abilities?
“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”
15. Improve your Diet!
There is no doubt that eating healthier can improve the health of your mind, body and spirit. My #1 suggestion is to start by changing your diet.
If you know that your current diet needs some work, consider what you can do to move towards a diet that contains more healing foods which will benefit your outlook in multiple ways. Amazingly, the very foods that you eat can serve as natural remedies for anxiety, can fight depression, and can boost your mood.
Start with your breakfast and consume a healthy smoothie every morning. By doing this alone, you could be improving your diet by 33%! A healthy, filling breakfast gets your whole day started on the right food- giving you the energy and focus you need to practice all of the previous 14 steps toward feeling happier.
Another step of changing your diet, is to do a whole body detox. By planning for a few weeks to “clean out” your body, you will leave yourself feeling more energized, and ready to get moving! Make sure to drink enough water daily in order to stay hydrated is an important part of detoxing your body and boosting your mood as well.
My last important healthy eating habit is to aim for eating 5+ servings of vegetables and fruits every day. While you want to always try to eat more vegetables than fruits, both are packed with vitamins and minerals. There are countless different kinds to try, so there’s got to be at least some that appeal to your taste buds!
Fresh fruits and vegetables provide important antioxidants that help with brain function, mood, energy levels, and ward off inflammation and stress-inducing diseases. A healthy diet fosters happiness by not only allowing you to avoid life-crippling illnesses and conditions, but also by providing you with actual mood-boosting essential vitamins, trace minerals, healthy fats and more.
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