“Don’t Worry, Be Happy”
“In every life there comes some trouble, when you worry you make it double, don’t worry, be happy!” Bobby’s McFerrin song from 1988:
Topics covered in this article and in my new presentation with the same title, include:
– Definition of happiness, wellbeing, comparing memory to experience
– Measuring happiness
– Pleasure versus happiness
– Sources and neuroscience behind happiness
– Contrast of misery and pain to happiness
– Human negative bias – Freud
– Extrinsic and intrinsic goals
– Money’s role in happiness
– Who’s happy and who’s not
– Tips for finding authentic happiness
Definition of Happiness:
“State of well-being characterized by emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy”
In essence, there is a distinct difference between memory of happiness and the experience of happiness.
Memory of happiness equates to a sense of well being or being happy “about your life.”
Experience of happiness is being happy “in your life!”
Let’s say you attended a beautiful symphony last night that you enjoyed immensely, however at the end of the performance the PA system went haywire and there was a long screeching, gut wrenching, squeal that brought loud boos from the audience.
“What would be your memory of this evening?”
“Did the squeal ruin your experience?”
Most people would remember the squeal when recalling the evening, however the squeal cannot take away from the wonderful experience that was enjoyed during the performance.
When I go back to visit my family and friends in Ohio they often say, “I bet you’re happy living in California!” Obviously referring to the stark difference in the weather between Ohio and California.
One might assume people are happier in California than in Ohio? The truth is that people are not any happier in California, they only think they are happier. Both experience happiness, joy and pain equally.Only when they think about the contrast between the climates do people perceive California folks as happier.
Memory is perception – the experience of happiness is in the now and is spiritual by nature.
“Perception always involves some misuse of the active mind.” - A Course in Miracles.\
Neuroscience can measure happiness by increased activity in the left prefrontal cortex in the brain.Neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, serotonin, GABA, norepinephrine,
acetylcholine, are related to experiencing pleasure (temporary happiness) and active MRIs can register arousal in the reward circuits in the brain. The most primitive reward circuit is between the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and the nucleus accumbens.
The hormone cortisol can be measured in the blood and is released in unhealthy amounts when a person is under stress, therefore reduced levels of cortisol will be present when a person is happy.
Also, happiness can be measured by surveys. Of course the wording of the survey can bring about different results.
Pleasure Versus Happiness
Pleasure is the state of feeling pleased or gratified. Our brains are wired to experience pleasure to ensure we repeat life-sustaining activities such as sex and eating. The same reward circuits for food and sex are activated with alcohol and drug use, and maybe activated by gambling, shopping and even anger and chaos.
Pleasure is a temporary experience with either positive or negative consequences.
Happiness carries a deep sense of fulfillment. Happiness is also the result of overcoming pain and adversity.
Once again this is where contrast comes into play. A person who has had a near death experience, recovered from a terminal disease or has had a spiritual awakening as a result of life changing experiences will tend to appreciate the happiness associated with normal daily living more than other people.
Pain the Price of Admission
“In every AA story, pain has been the price of admission into a new life. But this admission price purchased more than we expected. It led to a measure of humility, which we soon discovered to be the healer of pain. We began to fear pain less, and desire humility more than ever.” As I See It… Bill W. and the Twelve and Twelve
Human Negative Bias
Freud stated: “the pursuit of happiness is doomed, the plan of creation doesn’t include that man should be happy.”
– People hate to lose more than they love to win
– There is no word in the English language for the happiness one person feels for another person’s good fortune – The Buddhist term for this “mudita”
– Marriage Ratio: One negative comment requires 5 positive comments to equal out
How Ego Blocks Happiness
– Ego uses the past to destroy present joy
– Ego cannot survive without judgment
– Ego lives by comparison (media, celebrities, athletes, education, family, religion)
– Ego wants you miserable and then it wants you dead
– Ego seeks to divide and separate, Spirit seeks to unify and heal
This is a psychological phenomenon that equates to “the more you get the more you want.” A major achievement of a life goal (or expensive purchase) brings on a temporary burst of happiness that is quickly replaced with increased expectations of material desires. Overall happiness does not change.
Common areas of never having enough are: wealth, power, status, physique, attention, drugs, booze, sex, and plastic surgery.
On the Happier Side
“The pursuit of happiness is obligatory. Man wishes to be happy and only wishes to be happy and cannot wish not to be happy.”
He went on to say what makes man happy is widely varied. Some men are happy avoiding war and others are happy creating war.
What Is the Source of Happiness in Human Beings?
50% is of happiness is genetic, 10% is status which includes wealth, job and social status, while intentional behaviors is the source of the other 40%. Knowing that our thoughts and behaviors actually create new neural circuits in the brain, intentional self-enhancing thoughts and behaviors can overtime rewire our brains so that we enjoy more happiness.
Certain activities are known for stimulating the brains sources for happiness.
People are the happiest when they are:
– In the flow, absorbed in a task such as, physical activity (sports) and even work
– People who seek variety and new adventures are also happier
– People are happy when focused on a loved one
– People are happy when discovering and learning
– And of course, people are happy while engaged in sex
Ironically, people are least happy when they are looking in the mirror and, or when they are self-analyzing. This is different from the authentic good feelings one experiences by honest self-assessment and by journalizing one’s feelings.
People who are members of strict fundamentalist groups tend to not be happy. Also with people who commute more than 45 minutes to work daily are not happy.
Extrinsic and Intrinsic Goals and Values
Extrinsic (external goals) include: money, image and popularity. I associate these with “memory happiness.”
Intrinsic (internal goals) include: personal, growth, relationships and community feeling.
These I associate with the experience of happiness. These are similar to value shifts with people whom survive a near death experience, recovery from a terminal disease or recovery from addiction. They usually also include the spiritual experience of belief in a divine intelligence, higher power or God.
Money’s Role in Happiness
Over the last five decades individual wealth has doubled in the USA with no marketable increase in happiness.
In a recent survey of over 600,000 Americans indicates:
Money doesn’t buy happiness; nevertheless poverty does correlate with misery.
Families with incomes of less than $60,000 annually and tend to become more miserable with the less they make below that level. Families earning over $60,000, up to billions in annual income, all“experience” happiness on the same level.
When people equate their status and wealth to their happiness, it’s only the “remembering self” - not the“experiencing self” - that undergoes the feeling of wellbeing.
Tips for Happiness
– Live close to where you work
– Write or mentally review a daily gratitude list
– Take nothing personal
– Recognize you are not what you do for a living
– Recognize you are not your thoughts
– Challenge your beliefs and establish and review your personal values
– Take quiet time to pray, meditate
– Don’t take yourself too seriously, seriously!
– Help others daily and be generous
– Smile – laugh – hug
“Now and then, it’s good to pause from the pursuit of happiness and just BE happy.” Guillaume Apollinaire, 1880-1918
“Happiness without reasons is real happiness – it is frequently referred to as bliss, this is a happiness that can never be taken away. Bliss is available in the now.” Depak Chopra
“My function is happiness. My happiness and function are one, because God has given me both.”A Course In Miracles… Anonymous
Thank you for reading,
”I wish each of you love, peace, abundance and happiness…” Larry
by Larry Smith, CAS II
Author of Captain Larry Smith’s Daily Life Plan Journal
“As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.” — Henry David Thoreau, Author, Poet, and Philosopher
Affirmations – Webster’s Dictionary definition:
1) The act of affirming; something affirmed; a positive assertion
2) A solemn declaration made under penalties of perjury by a person who declines taking an oath.
The context of the word “affirmation” best fitting to this article is, “a positive assertion.”
Affirmations, as they apply to persons in recovery, are used to change negative, self-serving and egotistical thoughts. Affirmations are useful in the process of fixing broken belief systems. They can be in the form of a vow or simply a positive statement about your self. Affirmations are verbalized self-talk that when repeated, actually changes your brain chemistry thus changing your mindset. Over time, affirmations can become reality.
Why do we need affirmations?
Many people in recovery have a warped sense of perception. Somewhere along the line, rather it was from our parents, school systems or peers we started believing we didn’t measure up. It is believed that over 90% of all human thoughts are negative. Add negative thinking to low self-esteem creates a feeling of not being worthy. Feeling unworthy is rocket fuel for addiction.
Watching the tube and listening to the “talking heads” we could all easily perceive the world is an awful and wicked place. Overtime, we all internalize our environments. This is why I constantly point out to people in recovery, we are 100% responsible for our actions and our thoughts. Therefore, we need to make decisions on what we will allow to penetrate our minds.
Affirmations, if used properly and regularly will change negative thoughts about yourself into a self-enhancing more accurate perception of your self worth.
Authentic affirmations will help us on our journey to peace, love and serenity.
Not all affirmations are created equal. I have heard many affirmations that I believe to be damaging for people in recovery.
First of all – affirmations work. They work so well that making the wrong affirmations can lead to disappointments, loss of faith and loss of hope. You may ask, “What could be so controversial about something as simple as making an affirmation?” Let’s discuss the “Do’s” when creating your affirmations.
Recovering people should consider these guidelines.
- Affirmations should be stated in a positive tone. Instead of saying “I am not going to drink or use drugs every again” (which includes many negative words) – I say, “I will be sober today.” These words are positive, realistic and achievable.
- Less is usually better – meaning “concise positive assertions” are initially more effective than long puffed up statements. Affirmations such as, “I am honest,” “I am loving,” “I live in abundance” are easy to use. Many effective concise affirmations start by saying, “I am and… fill in the blank.”
- Use affirmations often. I recommend daily, and if possible as part of your morning meditation. Affirmations also work well when you are under stress to prevent negative and destructive self-talk.
- Update your affirmation list often. You can add, subtract and change the wording of your affirmations as you see fit, always remembering that it is the repetition that actually changes your brains neurochemistry.
- Counteract the negatives in your past. Let’s say your parents constantly said to you, “You are lazy” and maybe it was true. Maybe you were lazy, or maybe their standards of ambition were unrealistic, “it doesn’t matter.” What is important is that now, you say over and over, “I am ambitious.” And if you are not presently ambitious, once again “it doesn’t matter” as long as you wish to become ambitious.”
- Add the word “really”: To emphasize good traits you are known for, use the word “really” in the affirmations. “I am really a good listener” and “I am really a loyal friend” are good examples.
Remember Stuart Smalley (AKA Al Franken) from Saturday Night Live? “I am good enough, I am smart enough and dog-gone-it people like me.” The character was hilarious, however the point was well taken. Affirmations alone will not make you “whole” (Greek for sanity) – but used correctly and repeatedly can make a real difference in your self-esteem.
Here’s where I step on some toes. I suggest you DO NOT USE THE FOLLOWING slogans or similar statements as affirmations.
- I’m the best.
- I’m number ONE.
- I expect miracles.
- I deserve a break.
Since affirmation work really well, they need to be realistic. Prideful assertions may program you to be arrogant. These assertions indirectly compare you to others, totally missing the point intended by practicing affirmations.
I believe if you were called stupid as a child or compared negatively to another sibling, a great affirmation is to say, “I am intelligent” not “I am the smartest kid in my family.” “I am intelligent” helps you get over the myth of your stupidity and at the same time builds your self-esteem without belittling others.
Statements such as, I’m # 1, or I’m the best” indirectly makes comparisons with others and breaks one important rule about affirmations. “Affirmations, as well as with personal boundaries, should be about you and you alone.”
Many people while active in their addictions bounced between feelings of inferiority and superiority, neither of which were accurate. Recovery is about getting real.
Avoid Affirmations that include Expectations and Entitlements
One of the most prolific discoveries in my recovery was, the less I wanted, the less I expected, and the less I felt I deserved the happier I became. Anytime we state, “I deserve” displays a self-centered sense of entitlement that is not an attractive trait.
Expectations can set you up for disappointments. In recovery, we do the next best, indicated thing. We take action to help others as well as ourselves, plus we strive to be honest, open minded and willing. These actions may produce miraculous results without the disappointments that expectations create. Acceptance is the best antidote for expectations.
Affirmations work best with “Action.”
Some affirmations require a lot of action. If you are in poor health consider making an affirmation “I am a healthy person” – hopefully, this new mindset will inspire you to follow-up by improving your diet, getting exercise and proper sleep.
Affirmations create a mindset that builds a foundation for change.
Examples of words to use in affirmations: “I am____”
Alert Dependable Honest Present
Attentive Enthusiastic Humble Punctual
Authentic Generous Kind Receptive
Compassionate Genuine Loving Supportive
Creative Grateful Loyal Vulnerable
More sophisticated affirmations can be derived by adding meaningful words:
“I am wonderfully rich in consciousness”
“I am aware of God’s divine presence with me”
“I am completely at peace and totally in acceptance”
“I am connected with the beauty of nature”
“I live in abundance and prosperity”
“My true nature is to be of love and service to my fellow man”
Affirmations help us change our belief systems and reinvent how we live our lives daily. I adjust my daily affirmations to coincide with the area of my life I am trying to improve.
Remember: The most important conversation you will ever have will be the one you have with yourself… Unknown Author
Contact me for lectures, workshops or education groups.