Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Happy.

I have long held the belief that one of the biggest keys to good health is happiness and satisfaction in your own life.  No amount of broccoli and lima beans is going to healthify away the effects of a bad attitude.  Anger, depression, perfectionism, and high-stress lifestyles have been linked to everything from cancer (1) (2) (3)  to heart disease (1) (2) (3) to inflammation of all kinds (a major disease precursor) (1) (2) (3).  So I think it is very safe to say that simply being happy could very well save your life (as well as make your life a lot more fun to live).

It really doesn't get much happier than this.


Now, I'm no Wise Man on the Mountain, but I'd like to think I'm a pretty happy person.  My life has been far from perfect, and I have overcome many difficulties.  But I have managed, I think, to keep a very positive attitude through it all and make the most of what I've been given.  I am, as a general rule, unabashedly cheerful, happy, content with my life, and excited for the future.  People usually ask me what drugs I'm on.  (None, by the way, and thank you very much.)  In any case, I'd like to throw some of the lessons I've learned so far at you in hopes that maybe some of it might help someone.  So without further ado, here's Melody's Tips for Being Happy.

1)  Get the poison out.  There is always going to be someone who wants to poop on your petunias.  Some people are just going to suck the joy right out of you.  To me, it honestly does not matter if they are friends, family, significant others, someone you've known since you were a fetus, or whatever.  I don't believe blood makes family-- family is something that is proven through relationships.  If you have someone in your family, blood-related or not, who brings you down, it might be time to clean them out of your life.  Maybe they can come back someday when they are ready to love you and support you as you are, but until then, they are simply not doing you any good.  Now, I know this is not an easy task.  However, once your life is clear of human poison, you'll be amazed how much better you'll feel.  Trust me-- I've had to do this over and over again.

I've noticed that people who don't deserve to be in your life tend to weed themselves out over time.  It usually happens when either something really, really good or something really, really bad happens to you.  Poisonous people will rear their ugly heads, either unable to handle the situation, jealous of your success, or reveling in your misfortune.  Take this opportunity to politely tell them to go F themselves.  At the same time, these events are usually where you can see most clearly who your true family is.  Hold on to those folks.  They are few and far between, and worth more than anything money can ever buy.

2)  Care.  First and foremost, care about yourself.  If you have no love for yourself, it's virtually impossible to truly love anyone else.  And if you won't take care of yourself, you won't be able to take care of anyone else, either.  If you have feelings of self-loathing, or even self-indifference, care enough to get outside help, whether it be through a social support network, therapy, meditation, or some other healing process.  These wounds are old and unnecessary, and they can be healed.

Next, care about others, and give them some of your time.  Go have dinner with your best friend who you never see because you're always so busy.  Call your mom.  Take your dog for a nice, long walk.  Play with your kids.  Smile at your neighbor.  Have a friendly chat with the cashier at the supermarket.  It is these interactions that put smiles on faces and make life worthwhile.

3)  De-stress.  You know what?  There's a really good chance you're never going to look back on your life and wish you had worked more hours.  Stress kills, and it's a damn shame so many people fall victim to it when there is much that can be done to mitigate it.  Find a little bit of "you" time every day, even if it's just 5 minutes during your lunch.  Make that time belong to you and no one else, and do whatever makes you happiest during that time.  Learn to breathe properly.  Take a vacation EVERY YEAR, even if you don't go anywhere.  Do not bring your work with you for that period of time, no matter what.  Get some bodywork done (chiropractic, massage, acupuncture, etc) to help undo some of what stress does to your muscles.  Physically put in your calendar time to exercise, sleep, and perform de-stressing activities such as meditation, spending time with friends and family, and so on.  You'll be glad you did.

4)  Don't compare yourself to anyone but yourself.  You are not a Victoria's Secret underwear model.  (Or maybe you are.  I don't know.  But if you are, you're not a different Victoria's Secret underwear model.)  In any case, stop comparing yourself to people who are not you.  You will never have someone else's body, someone else's personality, someone else's hair, someone else's sense of style, or anything else that makes that person the unique individual that they are.  Stop wasting your time trying to be someone you're not.  Just be the best "you" you can be.  If you know you're not quite living up to your capabilities, make a clear plan to figure out how to get there, and concentrate on achieving what you want to achieve.  But don't base it on someone else's life-- it is not realistic, not feasible, and will only lead to frustration.

Happy Sloth is happy.
 
5)  And, on that same line of thought, stop caring what the neighbors think.  If I lived my life based on what my parents wanted me to be, I would have been a doctor, lawyer, or investment banker, had married another doctor, lawyer, or investment banker straight out of college, would still be living in the New York suburbs, would have had several children by now, and, quite frankly, would be miserable, because none of this is what I wanted to do with my life.  I don't make my life decisions-- not my personal style, not my behavior, not my career choice, not my life path-- nothing-- for anyone else's approval.  No one knows what will make me happy but me, and I refuse to settle for anything less than what I want out of life.  If you're living your life by someone else's standards, you're probably never going to live the life you really want.

6)  Get involved in extracurriculars.  I love my job and am incredibly passionate about the fitness world, but I do have other interests in life.  There is so much out there in this big, beautiful world-- why not explore it?  I love to travel, so I jump on any opportunity I get to do so.  Music is one of my biggest passions, so I make time to sing in two bands, and I have the best time doing it.  I've jumped off 2 planes, gone hang gliding in Hawaii, snuggled elephants in an elephant rescue area in Thailand, helped save sea turtles in Costa Rica, got mugged in Brazil (it wasn't part of the plan, but it does make one hell of a story).  I educate myself constantly in subjects that interest me, and I never regret the learning process.  I went through 4 1/2 years of my master's degree in Chinese medicine before I decided I did not want to continue (I had about 4 years left).  People kept telling me how crazy I was, since I had already put in so much time and money.  I disagree-- I learned what I wanted to learn, and also learned that it was not important enough to me to spend another 4 years and countless hours trying to finish up, and now I can use that time to study something else.  My point is, don't make your job your life.  There is so much to see and do.  Take advantage of it.

7)  Stop being afraid.  I have lived in 9 cities and three countries since college.  Most of these, I knew no one when I arrived.  People shook their heads in disbelief at me.  I did it anyway, made the most of it, and learned a lot in every place I lived.  When I started my business, people kept telling me what a bad idea it was-- there was so much competition out there; it was so much safer to work for a company; personal trainers don't usually make much money... it went on and on and on.  I knew what I wanted to do, and I needed to at least give it a shot.  Now, I did it intelligently-- I had amassed a very loyal client base before I decided to go it alone.  But I was willing to take the risk, and I am so glad I did.  Not every risk pays off, but I am a firm believer in never looking back on my life and wondering "what if?"  Take some risks.  You never know what treasure you might find.

8)  Get to the root of the problem.  If you are angry, depressed, fearful, or stressed out, stop trying to gloss it over or medicate it.  Figure out what is causing the emotion.  This will require some deep soul-searching, and possibly some help from an outside source (friend, family member, therapist, whatever).  If you address the root of what ails you, you will usually cure the symptoms.  Find out why you're not happy.  Then figure out a way to fix the problem at its source.

9)  Express yourself.  In many of the studies done on how anger affects disease risk, the anger itself is not as much of the problem as is the method in which it is expressed.  People who hold emotions in tend to have more problems than those who get them out.  Shoving everything down until you become a seething cauldron of repressed emotion can't go anywhere good.  Now, it is important to get your emotions out in a healthy manner-- talking to friends, wailing on a punching bag and/or spending some time in the yard with a sledgehammer and a tire works for me in times of anger-- but get them out.  Talk to someone, be it a good friend, family member, or therapist.  Meditate.  Breathe.  Get the bad stuff out so that you can put more good stuff in. 

10)  Forgive.  Once upon a time, I dated someone really, really bad.  (OK, I've dated a lot of people who were less than stellar.  But this one was really, REALLY bad.)  When the relationship ended, I was angry about a lot of things.  I do not tend to be an angry person, and I think this was the angriest I've ever been for the longest time I've ever been angry.  I was boiling mad for two months straight.  And quite frankly, it was really bothering me.  I felt like I was trapped in a bad pattern that I could not get out of.  One day, I got the help of someone who guided me through a visualization technique.  I imagined my ex-- I could see him very clearly-- standing in front of me.  And right there, I explained to him that I forgave him.  This doesn't mean that I was OK with his behavior-- it simply meant that I was willing to let go of it and move on.  And then-- *poof*-- he was gone.  And so was my anger.  It was unbelievably freeing.  I strongly recommend forgiving-- I mean really, truly forgiving-- the people who have caused you pain-- including yourself.  You don't have to confront anyone with your forgiveness if you don't want to.  Just do it with a visualization if you'd like.  I know this sounds really woo-woo, but it really does work, and it's the best way to move on from bad situations.

11)  Stop making excuses.  "I would (insert positive action here), but (insert lame but plausible excuse here)."  Stop thinking about why you can't.  Start thinking about how you can.

I hope this helps someone somehow.  In the meantime, what are your secrets to happiness?  Post 'em here!

5 comments:

  1. Good post. I enjoy your writing style.

    In which countries did you live?

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    1. Thanks, Mike! I lived in England and Italy (as well as the USA).

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  2. Melody,
    Spot on-great post!
    Last year was super "dark" for me and I even gave the big "s" word attention. While out running or biking I kept thinking that when the next car comes by I'm just going to move over some and get it over with-but, with each car that kept coming at me, I just couldn't do it.
    My biggest issue was caring too much that it became an obsession and then to where nothing was done right unless it was done my way. Even small things like laundry getting folded "just right" or dishes being put in the dishwasher "just right". I know, sounds so silly and plain hair pulling, but it was "my" life and what I thought was right. Now, it's giving in to letting others be in my life. I have to accept that I will get hurt. I now let people into my life without fear of them just being there to eventually hurt me.
    It took many miles out running and many kettlebell sessions swinging and many talks with God to dig way down deep to come face to face to what kept me in my darkness. Things are hard to face like you say, but it's gotta be done. Sometimes we don't even know what's going on because we're so wrapped up in what we think is right. I put on 50lbs that year. I originally lost 120lbs and to put back 50 of it almost through me into that darkness again, but it was not going to happen. I began to deal. Deal with things way down deep in my very soul and since then have gotten my head out of my ass and starting to lose that 50lbs-again! Down 10 so far!
    Sorry for dragging this out!
    Peace!

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    1. Wow, Diana. I am so glad you got out of that dark place and are back on the road to health and happiness. Giving up control now and then is really tough (for me, too), as is the ability to say "no" once in a while. Sounds like you've learned how to do both and are much better off as a result!

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    2. Thanks Melody!
      I'm not where I want to be yet, but I'm also not where I used to be! I'm on my way......one day at a time!
      Hardest thing to do is to realize that it's not everyone else who has a problem, it's ourselves with the problem!

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