How to Be More Happy in 2020

Available for Interviews: Dr. Colleen Cira

As a Licensed Clinical Psychologist who specializes in Trauma, Dr. Cira worked with hundreds of people on how to increase happiness in their lives, even after they experience the unthinkable.  We all have a certain happiness set-point, but there are things we can do to encourage our set-points to move in a better direction.


As we make our way through the pandemic story of 2020, thankfully, things are starting to lighten up, and hopefully, our stress and anxiety levels are starting to go down. Still, many of us may be struggling with happiness because of our current situation or because our worries about the future are overwhelming. 

What Dr. Colleen Cira can say in an interview about happiness:

The Pandemic and Happiness

  • It is less important to be “happy”; FAR MORE important to feel grounded and stable.
  • That’s not to say that happiness isn’t possible, but happiness, when it’s genuine and feels the best, is usually a side-effect. If we work really hard to be happy . . . well . . . that’s kind of an oxymoron. 
  • So do things that make you feel grounded, stable, relaxed, connected . . . and the happiness will come on its own.

Advice for People Who Are Struggling
to Stay Positive and Happy

  • Don’t force it.  Again, “working hard” to be happy doesn’t really work.
  • Express your feelings. So when you’re struggling, allow yourself to struggle. Cry, yell in the privacy of your bedroom, punch a pillow, write your intense feelings down, call a trusted friend.  Work THROUGH those tough feelings, don’t avoid them.
  • Don’t avoid your feelings. When we avoid feelings—by eating when we’re not hungry, drinking too much, shopping online too much, etc.—our intense feelings don’t go away for good . . . they just go underground.
  • Allow your feelings to surface. When they go underground and out of our consciousness, they are a LOT trickier to manage. Far easier to just cry when you feel like crying and yell when you feel angry. And then keep going with your day. 

Some tried and true tips for
inviting happiness into our lives

      1. You are what you eat. The theme in many of these suggestions has focused on brain chemistry.  Well, the food you put in your body forces changes in your body as well! When you eat high sugar/carb foods, these offer quick bursts of energy, but then your blood sugar crashes which affect your mood.  When you choose whole, natural foods and focus on proteins and healthy fats, your blood sugar levels stabilize which helps your mood stabilizer. You don’t have to be a nutritionist to get that!
      2. Exercise and/or have more sex. Going back to brain chemistry here, but this is foolproof.  When you exercise and/or have sex, your body produces all of these great feel-good chemicals and floods your bloodstream with them.  The effects of those feel-good chemicals last long after you’re off the treadmill or out of bed. And when you exercise, you’re more likely to sleep better, and when you sleep well, you’re more likely to feel better.  It’s a fantastic vicious cycle that you want to take advantage of.
      3. Being kind to others. One of the things that makes people most happy is feeling like they have a purpose.  And feeling like you have a purpose typically comes back to doing something nice for other people.  So what are you passionate about? Do you love kids? Animals? Do you feel strongly about protecting the planet?  Whatever it is that really gets you going, especially when it involves doing something good for someone or something else, will boost happiness levels.
      4. Gratitude.  Turns out that when Grandma told you to “count your blessings”, there was a lot of wisdom behind that!  Science has proved over and over again that when we take, even just a moment, to be genuinely grateful for something, it increases our happiness because, again, it changes our brain chemistry.  Now we’re not talking about “I’m grateful to have a roof over my head”. We’re talking about noticing the beauty of the sunset, waking up well-rested and feeling awesome about that, etc. It has to be specific, it has to be genuine and we have to actually FEEL it, not just KNOW we SHOULD be grateful for it.
      5. Meditation.  Research is clear that while our happiness set-points can be pretty stubborn, a regular practice of meditation is one of the few things that can change our happiness set points.  Part of the reason that it can change our happiness set-point is that over time, it changes the chemistry of our brains and those changes stick around if we practice enough.
      6. Change your expectations. If you feel like once your circumstances change, THEN you’ll be happy, you’re wrong.  If you feel like you should be happy most of the time and something is wrong with you if you aren’t, you are wrong.  Constantly measuring your own well-being against someone’s else’s measuring stick is a set up for unhappiness. Trying to “achieve” happiness can sometimes be like getting stuck in quicksand: the harder you try to get out, the deeper you sink.  Be more accepting of how you’re feeling RIGHT NOW and happiness will come without having to try so hard.
      7. Therapy. Though right now in-person therapy may not be option for many, telephone and online therapy options are now readily available. Sometimes you may feel like you are trying EVERYTHING to feel happier and nothing is working despite your best efforts.  Or you SO WISH you could get the motivation to do any of the things I listed above, but you just can’t. This is not a sign that you lack self-discipline, flawed as a human being or any of the other terrible things you’re probably saying to yourself.  This is a sign that something is wrong and you need some help. There’s no shame in that. It’s great to want to work on yourself, but sometimes you need someone to join you on your journey . . . and that’s totally Ok.

 

Interview: Dr. Colleen Cira

Dr. Colleen Cira received both her Masters and Doctorate from The Illinois School of Professional Psychology and is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the State of Illinois.  She’s the Founder and Executive Director of Cira Center for Behavioral Health, PC, a boutique group practice specializing in Women and Trauma with locations in Chicago and Oak Park.

She was named one of the “Top 100 Women in Chicago Making a Difference” by Today’s Chicago Woman.  Dr. Cira is a trauma and anxiety expert, clinical supervisor, writer, speaker, consultant, activist, wife, and Mommy to two little ones.

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