Betty W. Phillips, Ph.D., Psychology
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Achieving Happiness




                                            ACHIEVING HAPPINESS


With stress and uncertainty so rampant these days, I want to do my part to bring a positive message to the readers of Southern Neighbor. I will be writing an article every other month about this topic. No matter what problems we are experiencing, we can learn to experience happiness and joy even in the darkest moments. Just think for a moment about the story of Helen Keller and you will realize that everyone, no matter how challenged, does have this capacity. As the old saying goes, "There are many paths to the top of the mountain but the view at the top is the same." In other words, individuals can have vastly different backgrounds and abilities, but all can choose goals and compatible strategies for themselves.  If you want to stay stuck in a slough of despair, you can. If you want to find your way up the mountain toward happiness, you can. In these articles I will be describing many of the paths you can choose to find your way.


Inspiration is a major road up the mountain.  I recommend you seek inspirational moments ever day! For example, instead of rising every morning to a jarring alarm and racing for your coffee and doughnuts, why not awake to your favorite morning music? Try Handel’s Messiah or stirring chords from Beethoven or rap music, whatever will put a song in your heart. Follow your muse throughout the rest of the day. Music is one of the most powerful routes to positive emotional states. Nature pictures, flowers, exercise, favorite scents, all can lift your mood and spirit. Words of inspiration are important and can awaken your mind and heart. Read from collections of motivational quotations, meditations or poetry to enliven your day. You may enjoy Bernie Siegel's book "365 Prescriptions for the Soul" (New World Library, 2009.) Remembering that we need three positives to counteract every negative experience, and realizing that the negatives in your environment are difficult to avoid, we do need to work and plan for happy outcomes.


Now you may be expecting me to tell you to think positive thoughts. Well, it's not so easy.  Our biological wiring controls our internal stress responses to the problems we encounter in our environment. In the past, with less bad news and fewer disasters, we relaxed and enjoyed life in between problems. Now our environment is such that we're constantly overstimulated and overstressed.  An entertaining book about stress, "Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers" (Robert Sapolsky, Third Edition, Holt, 2004) explains that the human nervous system combats short-term stress well but not the chronic traumas of modern-day life. As soon as the zebras outrun a lion, they calm down, no worries, no ulcers!  But we must put some effort into positive thinking as our problems and worries constantly drag us down. Therefore, whenever we find ourselves fretting about a problem, we should stop and ask ourselves the simple question "What is positive about this?" Believe me, there are positives in every situation if you look for them. For example, what is positive about getting sick? Well, you could get some extra sleep. What is positive about your television needing repairs? Well, you can spend time talking with your spouse or playing games with your children or going for walks. With time and ingenuity, you can find positives everywhere, even encountering major difficulties.


So start up the mountain toward happiness and keep tuned for future articles. If you want to read ahead, you can find many pertinent articles on my website,