The Pursuit of Happiness
Do you believe you can feel better every single day—even in hard times? Dr. Andrew Weil says you can, but how will surprise you.
Photo credit: Dan Saelinger
If you've ever wanted to be happier than you are, you're obviously not alone. But Andrew Weil, MD, the founder and director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, is here to gently suggest that we might be going about it all wrong. Ever since he graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1968, Dr. Weil has been sounding the alarm about the wrongheadedness of the diagnose-and-drug model of health care. And now, with his new book, Spontaneous Happiness, he's fixing his gaze on what makes us truly happy, what to do when we're not, and how to better weather life's inevitable highs and lows. He says we can all feel better—much better—than we do.
There's an unspoken message in our society that we should all be happy all the time, and people are making themselves miserable trying to achieve it.
I don't think that happiness or depression is a mood we should be in all or even most of the time. Most of us look for happiness "out there," which renders it out of our control. The truth is, extremely negative and positive moods, like bliss and despondency, mark the edges of our emotional spectrum. They can help us discover a neutral midpoint of emotional health.
So how do we foster contentment?And what is that midpoint exactly?
It's contentment, which is an internal state of well-being that's relatively impervious to life's transient ups and downs, and it's independent of what you have or don't have. If you hitch your moods to something external--getting a raise, a new car, a new lover--then what happens if that goes away? Contentment, on the other hand, is an inner feeling of calm; it's not dependent on external circumstances, possessions, or an episode of good fortune.
A good place to start is with a journal where you write down what you're grateful for and then express thanks to key people in your life. Regularly practicing this sort of thinking is one of the best strategies for enhancing a sense of well-being. You should also try some form of meditation and deep breathing--which is free, and it's right under your nose! Breathing mindfully helps calm our nervous system—it's an easy, powerful tool.
But let's say you work two jobs, your parents are sick, your kids are struggling in school—how can you find time to do this?
I understand it's difficult, but breathing exercises literally take five minutes a day; sitting down quietly and meditating on your life takes just a few minutes too.