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How to Sustain Happiness

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(This is the 2nd article in our series on Finding Happiness in 2012)

We learned last week that there is more to happiness than the kind that comes with instant gratification. However terrific that high might feel, it’s fleeting. Is it possible to have sustainable happiness? Is it possible to have a sense of peace and satisfaction while the demands of parenting can weigh us down oh-so-often? I don’t know, but I’m willing to give it a go! Dr. Andrew Weil, author of Spontaneous Happiness, and world-renowned Harvard educated doctor, shares his top ten tips on how to encourage long-lasting happiness and peace in our lives in 2012 and beyond. Happy New Year to all of you, our wonderful Mother Company readers! — Laurel Moglen, TMC, Web Content Producer

An article by Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D.

Here’s a top ten tip list on how Mamas can increase their sense of happiness and peace in the New Year.

1. Cultivate the kind of happiness and peace that comes from within. Emotions exist on a continuum from extremely positive to extremely negative. Experiencing a range of emotions is both normal and healthy provided that you don’t get stuck in a particular mood, or bounce between extremes. Emotional well-being can be optimized by damping the oscillations between moods and aiming for a mid-point not of happiness, but of contentment, balance, and resilience.

2. Follow an Anti-Inflammatory Diet Insulin resistance is associated with inflammation, weight gain and depression. An anti-inflammatory pattern of eating has been shown to reduce insulin resistance, lessen inflammation, and enhance mood. Eat a wide variety of brightly colored fruits and vegetables, cold water fish, plant-based protein, healthy fats and slow-digesting carbohydrates, and avoid highly processed, manufactured and fast foods (http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/ART02012/anti-inflammatory-diet).

3. Get physically fit. Regular exercise of moderate intensity, such as a daily brisk 30-minute walk, lessens inflammatory changes, helps prevent depression, and is as effective for the treatment of mild to moderate depression as antidepressant medication. Exercise outdoors to get the added benefit of connecting with nature.

4. Supplement wisely. Dietary supplements do not take the place of a healthy diet, but they can fill nutritional gaps. For example, most people do not ingest enough omega-3 fats (DHA and EPA), which play important roles in controlling inflammation. Women are particularly vulnerable to depleted omega-3 fatty acid stores, especially during pregnancy and the first few months following delivery. I believe that maintaining adequate omega-3 fatty acid intake not only promotes heart health but also enhances mood. I recommend taking a molecularly distilled fish oil supplement each day that provides a combined 2-4 grams of DHA and EPA. Another common nutritional deficiency is a lack of vitamin D, low levels of which are associated with many disorders, including depression. Speak with your doctor about having a test to determine your vitamin D level, or take 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) daily.

5. Limit your time on the internet. Information overload makes us feel less in control of our lives and clearly contributes to anxiety and depression. In addition, hours in front of the computer screen make us less socially interactive, not more, and social isolation predisposes to depression. Maintain a supportive network of family and friends by being in their presence whenever possible. Spontaneous happiness is incompatible with social isolation.

6. Get adequate sleep. Healthy sleep can help optimize emotional well-being, while insufficient quality or quantity of sleep can adversely affect it. Maintain a set bedtime that gives you the best chance of getting at least 7 hours of sleep each night. And when your children nap, take one yourself.

7. Manage stress in healthy ways. My favorite stress management technique is the 4-7-8 (or relaxing) breath, which can offer immediate relief from anxiety. Sit or lie in a comfortable position, placing the tip of your tongue just behind your upper teeth and keeping it there throughout the entire exercise:

  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a gentle “whoosh” sound.
  • Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
  • Hold your breath for a count of seven.
  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making another “whoosh” sound, to a count of eight.

This represents one cycle. Inhale and repeat three more times for a total of four cycles. Perform the exercise at least twice daily. Making the 4-7-8 breath part of your daily routine will increase your experience of serenity and comfort, and give you greater emotional resilience.

8. Eliminate noise. Expose yourself to sounds that soothe and calm, while limiting exposure to harsh noises that may worsen your mood. Listen to music that elevates your spirit, and regularly get outdoors. The complex sounds of nature have the potential to heal in ways that science has yet to fully define, but which are nonetheless undeniable.

9. Meditate. More than a technique of detaching from unwanted thoughts, meditation can allow you to witness the productions of your mind, including thoughts, from a nonattached, nonjudgmental perspective. The practice can help restructure the mind in healthy ways and supports emotional well-being. Simply sitting still and paying attention to your breath is an effective practice that anyone can do.

10. Don’t smoke. If you do, quit.

Dr. Andrew Weil is a world-renowned leader and pioneer in the field of integrative medicine. He is also the Founder and Director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, University of Arizona Health Sciences Center and Director of Integrative Health, Miraval Arizona. He’s a New York Times best-selling author and wrote the book, Spontaneous Happiness.

The Mother Company aims to support parents and their children, providing thought-provoking web content and products based in social and emotional learning for children ages 3-6. Check out the first episode of our children’s series, “Ruby’s Studio: The Feeling Show,” along with our beautiful children’s books, music, handmade dolls, and more. We want to be a truly helpful parenting tool… For you!

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