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.
During the peak of the pandemic, our stress and anxiety were at an extreme high. Although there were many aspects of this crisis that was (and still are) out of our control, there are still strategies we can employ to keep this in check and experience happiness.
- 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 affects 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 else’s measuring stick is a setup 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.
- Therapy. 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.
Available for Interviews: 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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