How are you feeling? This post discusses something that far too many people are suffering from right now: unhappiness. But while there may be reasons that you feel frustrated or stressed out, happiness is within your control.
Let me introduce you to my good friend, Sarah Hiner. Sarah is the former President and CEO of a wonderful company, Bottom Line Inc., publishers of the highly acclaimed newsletter Bottom Line Personal. For more than four decades, Bottom Line Inc. (formerly Boardroom Inc.) has provided consumer health and finance news to over 20 million readers worldwide.
With the sale of the company, she is now devoting her time to her passion — helping people feel and be their best. Sarah’s insights put you back in control of your own happiness by understanding the chemistry behind your emotions.
It is important to mention that I do not accept, nor did I receive, any benefit for publishing this blog post. My sole purpose for publishing this piece is to share a valuable resource with you.
–– Frank Sonnenberg
Why Happiness Is a Choice
Guest post by Sarah Hiner
“I like to complain and do nothing to make things better.” ~ Kurt Cobain
What a sad, sad statement. And yet, whether they say it out loud or not, I fear this is a mantra that far too many people live by, acting a lot like Pooh’s gloomy friend Eeyore, as they drag through their days in misery. COVID has only made things worse, given the pervasive feeling of helplessness across the country and the globe.
So, here’s the question. How are you? How are you viewing your world? Are you an Eeyore? There are definitely many, many, many reasons to feel bad, frustrated, and fearful now. But what if I told you that happiness is within your control?
No, I haven’t lost my mind. The truth is that, for many years, I have watched people bathe themselves in unhappiness every day, even during good times. I won’t bore you with assorted stories of friends who have great marriages, good health, successful careers, responsible children, and plenty of money, yet they choose to complain. I would rather have us all focus on how to feel good.
For some reason, people think that happiness occurs “out there”…that something or someone makes them happy or unhappy. That suggests that we have no control over our own happiness, and rather than putting us in control of our lives, it gives all the power over our emotions and our outcomes to occurrences “out there,” leaving us as victims.
Here’s what happens…
If your child’s team wins the big game…you’re happy.
If the washing machine breaks…you’re unhappy.
If the waitress at the restaurant brings an extra appetizer for free…you’re happy.
If you get pulled over for speeding…you’re unhappy.
If someone says “yes” to us…we are happy.
If someone says “no” to us — yup, you guessed it — we are unhappy.
Are you seeing the pattern? Something happens outside of ourselves that controls our happiness.
But that simply isn’t true. These are all moments that may deserve some frustration but it’s a mistake to generalize them into being categorically happy or unhappy. Yet people do it.
What if I said that you have control over your feelings of happiness? Because, aside from those with serious chemical imbalances, happiness is a physiological reaction, a result of the interaction between mind and body. That’s right. Happiness is generally controlled by the thoughts you think and their effect on your body’s physiology. Specifically, your body releases hormones in response to your thoughts and experiences — four of those hormones make us feel good and one of them puts us in panic mode.
Dopamine is the hormone that rewards us when we achieve or get something. Author and inspirational speaker Simon Sinek describes dopamine as the feel-good chemical released when your phone dings — Hooray, I have a message…hooray, someone responded to me. When you reach for something and achieve it, your body rewards you with dopamine.
Oxytocin is the hormone of human connection, released when mothers breast-feed their babies, when adults make love, and when everyday people connect with others either physically or emotionally.
Serotonin is considered the primary mood stabilizer. When doctors diagnose a patient as depressed, they typically prescribe the antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). The problem is that antidepressants only work about 50% to 65% of the time, on average, and can cause unpleasant side effects. The interesting thing is that serotonin is produced in the digestive track as well as in the brain, and there is a high correlation between people with depression and those who have digestive issues. This raises interesting questions about which comes first…the depression or the digestive issues.
Endorphins, often referred to as the body’s natural painkillers, are the hormone that athletes get “addicted” to because they feel so good after activity.
And the “evil” hormone? Cortisol. Unto itself, cortisol protects us in many ways by providing energy, regulating blood pressure, and managing blood sugar during times of stress. Our bodies create it during the “fight or flight” survival response when we perceive danger. The problem is that in modern-day society, many of us perceive everything to be an affront, reacting with stress and emotional intensity far too often. The result? Our bodies are bathed in cortisol. A little cortisol is good, but long-term exposure to cortisol creates inflammation throughout your body and overtaxes your system — including overwhelming your ability to produce the feel-good hormones properly.
What does all this science mean? It means that your body releases hormones that drive your emotions in response to a thought. So, in many cases, if we change the thought, we can feel differently. Motivational author Louise Hay said, “It’s only a thought, and a thought can be changed.” In my opinion, these are some of the most powerful words ever spoken. Consider this…you can just as easily have a positive thought in response to a situation as you can have a negative one.
Now, take a moment to reflect on your day. With almost every positive thought and action, you release happy hormones. Think about how many positive thoughts you have versus negative ones. I will bet you have a whole lot more negative ones, right? Little frustrations…self-criticism…fear. With almost every negative thought, you release cortisol… and suppress your body’s natural happiness system. Someone cuts you off in traffic and you flip them the bird…you didn’t get a package you were expecting so you are annoyed…you have an unreasonable work deadline or work in a hostile environment and are stressed. We simply don’t need to react with such venom to everyday occurrences. It’s quashing our joy.
The sad fact is that adults have spent many years practicing these fearful and frustrating thoughts. We watch bad news, not good news. We binge-watch movies and television programs about sad stories, life crises, and criminals. We surround ourselves with inputs that feel bad rather than good, so much so that every day we “practice” reacting with stress rather than joy.
We’ve gotten really good at spending our days complaining and blaming. But what if instead of being the victim, you realized that you’re in control of your life? You can appreciate that your spouse or child prepped dinner without being frustrated that the kitchen is messy or the meal not quite the way you would have prepared it. You will have patience with the slow salesclerk in the store who is likely trying the best he can despite possibly being new to the job, having received inadequate training, or covering a second shift for a friend. We are so quick to be affronted, yet the truth is that the only one being hurt by those frustrations is you! It’s irritating your body and suffocating your happiness.
If you want happiness, you need to flip that practice by engaging in behaviors and thoughts that fuel the parts of your body that release the feel-good, happy hormones. Physical activity. Social interaction. Foods that supply quality fuel to your body. Positive thoughts and reactions. Touch. Smile. Notice the good rather than the bad.
Think happy thoughts, and the happy hormones fire. Think negative, angry thoughts, and the stress hormone cortisol suffocates all that happy-hormone plumbing…and you feel bad. Yes, this is an oversimplification of an incredibly complex physiological network, but the truth is that the high-level concept is truly not that complicated. Our bodies were designed in a really smart way, and they know how to react if we just give them the proper inputs.
Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz went on a very long journey to discover that happiness was right in her own backyard. Your happiness is in your own backyard, too. Once you stop giving the power to “them” — the people and things causing your unhappiness — and understand the Chemistry of Happiness, you are free to awaken your own happiness by the choices you make…and help your body do exactly what it knows how to do.
Have a fabulous day!
If you would like to learn more about Sarah Hiner and her 21-Day Program about The Chemistry of Happiness. And, if you use the code FS50 you can receive 50% off the first month of Premium Membership.
Sarah Hiner is the former President and CEO of Bottom Line Inc. For more than four decades, Bottom Line Inc. (formerly Boardroom Inc.) has provided consumer health and finance news to over 20 million readers worldwide. With the sale of the company, she is now devoting her time to her passion — helping people feel and be their best. That is why she has developed a 21-day program that helps people take control of their bodies and reawaken the happiness inside them.
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