Bliss Myths

Want more happiness in your life? And who wouldn’t?

The first step may be to change your views about what happiness really is…

Myth 1: Either you have it or you don’t.

There’s evidence that suggests genetics contributes to about 50% of your happiness set point — the level of happiness that seems most normal for you.

But that’s a far cry from 100%, says Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, author of The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want and professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside.

“If you do the work,” Lyubomirsky says, “research shows you can become happier, no matter what your set point is. You probably won’t go from a one to a 10, but you can become happier. It just takes commitment and effort as with any meaningful goal in life.”

Not only can you become happier, she says, but it gets easier over time. Work on nurturing relationships, writing in a gratitude journal, committing random acts of kindness, or developing a program of morning meditation or exercise.

make-happiness-a-habitChanges like these (proven methods for enhancing happiness) can become habits after a while, which means they eventually take less effort.  Have a look at yesterday’s The Pursuit of Happyness.

Myth 2: Happiness is a destination.

Happiness_journeyMany people think of happiness as a destination or acquisition – whether it’s a diagnosis, money, or a new medication. Sure, things like these can contribute to happiness, but not as much as you might think, Lyubomirsky says. They account for only about 10% of your whole happiness picture.

donutIf you’ve done the math, you now realize that about 40% of your happiness is in your hands. Lasting happiness has more to do with how you behave and think – things you control – than with many of life’s circumstances.

Robert Biswas-Diener, co-author of Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth, agrees.

“Happiness isn’t the emotional finish line in the race of life,” he says. It’s a process and a resource. Biswas-Diener says there’s a mountain of data showing that when people are happier, they become healthier and more curious, sociable, helpful, creative, and willing to try new things.

“Happiness is not just an emotional flight of fancy,” he says. “It’s beneficial for the long run, serving a real function in our lives.”

In psychological lingo, this is called the broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions, says Michael A. Cohn, PhD, a post-doctoral researcher with the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. Cohn recently conducted a study with 86 college students who submitted daily emotion reports. The researchers measured the students’ ability to flexibly respond to challenging and shifting circumstances and used a scale to assess life satisfaction. The study showed that positive emotions increased resilience – skills for identifying opportunities and bouncing back from adversity – as well as life satisfaction.

Myth 3: You always adapt to your happiness set point.

It’s true that people tend to adapt fairly quickly to positive changes in their lives, Lyubomirsky says. In fact, adaptation is one of the big obstacles to becoming happier. The new doctor, approval for Disability, friends’ support – all can bring a temporary boost but then recede into the background over time.

But why? One reason, Lyubomirsky says, is that we evolved to pay more attention to novelty. For our ancestors, novelty signalled either danger or opportunity – a chance for a new mate or food, for example. We’re attuned to contrasts, not sameness. But that also means we readily adapt to positive experiences that happen to us, Lyubomirsky says.

“I argue that you can thwart adaptation, slow it down, or prevent it with active ways of thinking or behaving,” says Lyubomirsky, who, after moving to Santa Monica, Calif., found herself adapting to her beautiful surroundings. To counteract this trend, she put effort into appreciating the view she saw when running on a path overlooking the ocean. She says she now savours that view every day, trying to see it “through the eyes of a tourist.”

To help thwart adaptation, you can also use novelty to your advantage. For instance, if your home has become a little ho-hum, you might try rearranging furniture or hosting parties for a variety of friends. Voluntary activities like these are most effective because they require you to pay attention, Lyubomirsky notes.

Myth 4: Negative emotions always outweigh the positive ones.

For quite some time, research has indicated that negative emotions are more powerful than positive ones, Cohn says. For example, studies show that people don’t have equal reactions to winning $3 and losing $3, he says. The loss tends to have a stronger effect than the gain.

Negative emotions might edge out positive emotions in the moment, Cohn says, because they’re telling you to find a problem and fix it. But positive emotions appear to win out over time because they let you build on what you have, a finding reinforced by Cohn’s recent study.

“We found that as positive emotions go up, there comes a point where negative emotions no longer have a significant negative impact on building resources or changing life satisfaction,” Cohn says. “Positive emotions won’t protect you from feeling bad about things, nor should they. But over time, they can protect you from the consequences of negative emotions.”

This may not be true for people with depression or other serious disorders, although they do show benefits when positive emotions are added to conventional psychotherapy, Cohn notes.

Myth 5: Happiness is all about hedonism.

There’s more to happiness than racking up pleasurable experiences. In fact, helping others (the opposite of hedonism) may be the most direct route to happiness, notes Stephen G. Post, PhD. Post is co-author of Why Good Things Happen to Good People: The Exciting New Research That Proves the Link Between Doing Good and Living a Longer, Healthier, Happier Life.

“When people help others through formal volunteering or generous actions, about half report feeling a ‘helper’s high,’ and 13% even experience alleviation of aches and pains,” says Post, professor of preventive medicine and director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care, and Bioethics at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, N.Y.

“For most people, a pretty low threshold of activity practiced well makes a difference,” Post says. This might involve volunteering just one or two hours each week or doing five generous things weekly (activities that are above and beyond what you normally do).

First documented in the 1990s, mood elevation from helping is associated with a release of serotonin, endorphins and oxytocin, a “compassion hormone” that reinforces even more helping behaviour, Post says.

Could compassion be rooted in our neurobiology? A National Academy of Sciences study showed that simply thinking about contributing to a charity of choice activates a part of the brain called the mesolimbic pathway, the brain’s reward centre, which is associated with feelings of joy.

“Although just thinking about giving or writing a check can increase our levels of happiness, face-to-face interactions seem to have a higher impact,” Post says. “I think that’s because they engage the [brain’s] agents of giving more fully through tone of voice, facial expression, and the whole body.”

Myth 6: One size fits all.

If you’re seeking a magic bullet or mystical elixir to enhance your happiness, you’re bound to be sorely disappointed. There is no “one size fits all” for happiness. Instead, there are many ways to boost your happiness. Here are options to try:

  • how-to-follow-your-bliss-inspirational-imagePick an activity that is meaningful to you, Cohn says. Whether you choose an activity that promotes a sense of gratitude, connectedness, forgiveness, or optimism, you’ll be most successful if your choices are personally relevant to you. And, he adds, this may also keep you from adapting to them too quickly.
  • Assess your strengths and develop practices that best use these gifts, Post suggests. Are you a good cook? Deliver a meal to a shut-in. A retired teacher? Consider tutoring a child. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination.
  • Vary your activities because promoting happiness is largely a question of finding a good fit, Lyubomirsky says. To that end, she helped Signal Patterns develop a “Live Happy” iPhone application that starts with a short survey to identify the happiness strategies that you’re suited to, such as journaling or calling someone to express gratitude. “You can lose your will [to do those activities] if it’s not a good fit,” Lyubomirsky says.

responsible-happiness-blogAnd when it comes to happiness, maintaining your will (and acting on it) might just put a pleasurable, meaningful life well within reach.

Excuses! Excuses! Excuses!

Last night I went to hydrotherapy. Holy cow! Major workout!

Technically, it was no different to all my other classes (in fact, we have a set routine) but my body really didn’t like moving. I’m guessing that it’s because it’s been about a week and a half since my last session (which was a self-help session), where I felt like I was moving through molasses!

I had given up my self-help session while I was attending rehab as I went to a hydro class there, but their hydro was very low impact and I had built up my session to be quite physical – so it seems that I had lost my momentum during all of this.

Mind you, I am finding it harder to walk the same distance that I do every day – but I am still doing it, at least!

Because it is (seemingly?) getting harder, it would be easy to just say that the exercising is not helping my FM – a very self-sabotaging mode of thought – BUT we know we should be exercising. All the research tells us so! But when it comes time to actually get out there and start moving, many of us have a long list of excuses not to exercise:

Excuse #1: I Don’t Have Time!

What is it that is sapping all your time?

If it’s your favourite TV shows, how about during your shows, you use resistance bands, or walk in place; or you could record your shows so you can skip the commercials and see a one-hour show in just 40 minutes – that’s a 20 minute walk right there!

If it’s work that’s sapping all your spare time, try exercising on the job. Close your office door and walk in place for 10 minutes. (It’s not a long time but it all counts!)

People who exercise regularly ‘make it a habit’ – they don’t have more time than anyone else; instead, they have prioritised their exercise time as something that needs to be done and is of great value.

Excuse #2: I’m Too Tired…(said in a whining voice)

It may sound counter-intuitive  but working out actually gives you more energy, says Marisa Brunett, spokeswoman for the National Athletic Trainers Association. Once you get moving, you’re getting the endorphins ( the feel-good hormones in your body) to release – in turn, this WILL make you feel better (in the long term).

Excuse #3: I Don’t Get a Break From the Kids.

This is the time to multi-task (says the woman without kids!) Take the kids with you – while they’re swinging, you can walk around the playground or the backyard. Walk the kids to school instead of driving them. During their soccer games or practices, walk around the field. Use your family time for active pursuit – go for a bike ride with your kids or just walk around the neighbourhood with your children. When the weather’s bad, you could try all those new exciting interactive video games like Dance Revolution, Wii Sport, and Wii Fit. (Do your kids want any of these as a Christmas present? They could be a gift for you, too!)

Excuse #4: Exercise Is Boring.

“Exercise should be like sex,” says sports physiologist Mike Bracko, EdD, FACSM, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and director of the Institute for Hockey Research in Calgary. “You should want it and feel good about it before you do it. And it should feel good while you’re doing it.”

So how do you get there? First, find an activity you love. Think outside the box: try dancing, walk to the post office or gardening. Or, if you love music, try ballroom dancing. There IS an exercise for everyone.

If it makes exercise more enjoyable for you, it’s okay to watch The Good Wife or read Fifty Shades while you’re on the exercise bike or treadmill — just don’t forget to pedal or walk.

Working out with a group also helps many people. I’m not talking bootcamps or running groups. Check out your local Arthritis Foundation office – that’s where I found my hydrotherapy classes.

And, every once in a while, try something totally new: for one term I joined a Tai Chi for Arthritis group (again through Arthritis Victoria). Mix it up so you don’t get bored!

Excuse # 5: I Just Don’t Like to Move.

There are people who really DO NOT like moving but how about walking in a mall? Window shopping counts as walking!

If it’s sweating you don’t like, you can get a good workout without perspiring excessively: you can work out indoors, where it’s air conditioned; you can swim so you won’t notice any perspiration; or, try a low-sweat activity like yoga.

If exercise hurts your joints, try starting by exercising in water (my favourite – hydrotherapy!) The stronger your muscles get, the more they can support your joints, and the less you’ll hurt.

If you don’t like to move because you feel too fat, start with an activity that’s less public, like using an exercise video at home. Walk with nonjudgmental friends in your neighbourhood while wearing clothes that provide enough coverage that you feel comfortable.

Excuse # 6: I Always End up Quitting.

Set small, attainable goals – then you’re more likely to feel like a success, not a failure! If you exercise for five minutes a day for a week, you’ll feel good (maybe not immediately, but soon enough. I promise!)

Don’t try to increase your exercise by too great an amount each time. My rehab physio reminded me that Olympians try to increase their best by 5 per cent – so why work harder than an Olympian? If you do 5 minutes one day, try 6 minutes (okay, it’s actually 5.25 minutes, but really?) the next. I started at 10 minutes of walking and am now up to an hour by doing it this way – I only increased my times 4 times a week; the other 3 days, I walked for the same period of time as I had the day before.

It also helps to keep a log (especially as fibro fog can have us forgetting where we are up to). A log may help you see if you’re starting to fall off the wagon (or the treadmill).

Having an exercise buddy keeps you accountable as well – when you back out of a scheduled workout, you’re letting down your buddy as well as yourself.

And look toward the future. It’s harder to start than it is to stick with it once you’ve got your momentum going!

Any more excuses, people?

Other exercises you might like to try:

Fibro Friendly Exercises slideshow

Fibromyalgically Sexy! (bet you haven’t seen those two words in a sentence together before!)

It’s been a long, exhausting day. It’s only 9pm, but you feel like it’s 4 in the morning and you’re ready to fall over. Suddenly your other half looks at you in that way, smiles and strokes your arm, and you know they want to make love, but all you can do is stare at them in shock.

Do you NOT know how I’m feeling?

Decreased sexual interest is not a common characteristic of FM. Nonetheless, a 2003 Brazilian study, involving women in their 40s and 50s, half of whom had FM and half of whom did not, found that the healthy group was likelier to have had a regular sexual relationship in the last six months than those with FM. The FM group members were less satisfied with their sex life, had more pain during intercourse, experienced more fatigue during sexual intimacy, and were less likely to initiate sexual intimacy than healthy women.

We already know that FM is more foe than friend.  While many of us are too tired for sex, it is the muscle pain that leads to pressure and a squeezing of the pelvic area and lower back that ultimately result in muscle cramping during sexual intercourse. This naturally causes a great deal of discomfort for an individual with FM, making it difficult to engage in certain sexual behaviours.

Sex eventually becomes something that is no longer pleasurable (I can’t believe I said that!), but a negative experience. One’s natural tendency is to avoid such physically intimate situations, especially given that one is too tired or sore for sex. So, who can be bothered?

Further, taking a toll on one’s sex life are FM medications that decrease libido and a man’s ability to attain or maintain erection. Anti-depressants can also take a toll on one’s sexual functioning. A person living with FM may react negatively to bodily changes, like weight changes and the loss of muscle mass.

As lovers feel less connected in the boudoir, their sexual relationship takes a hit (ie: unless they take steps to stay mentally and spiritually connected while attempting to be physically intimate). It’s important to realise that the release of hormones and endorphins, natural opioids, during sex can help to relieve FM symptoms, like pain and depression, and boosting well-being. This double-sided sword is that while sex can relieve symptoms of FM, like pain and depression, FM itself results in a decreased libido, fatigue and pain that hinder the individual’s desire and ability to engage in sexual intercourse.

Maintaining your sex life is vital to your health and well-being. In order to have a healthy sex life, why not try some of these pointers:

  1. Practice acceptance. Adapt. Make peace with the fact that you need to deal with this condition, and then allow yourself to reclaim your life in every way.
  2. Maintain a regiment that helps you to feel good about yourself – not necessarily just grooming. Sometimes you need to treat yourself to feel good. Take yourself off for a hot oil massage or a manicure.
  3. Stay physically active, preferably with your partner, as much as possible, as another way to feel better about yourself, possibly boosting your sex drive.
  4. Manage stress with relaxation techniques like meditation.
  5. Talk to your doctor about how your condition is affecting your sex life, including any medications that may be at play.
  6. Arm yourself with information. Become educated about your condition and how FM impacts your sexuality and sexual expression. This is a must in talking to your partner about everything that’s taking place. Being informed can also help to alleviate your lover’s concerns, helping both of you to stay emotionally connected.
  7. Allow your partner to be more active during sex if possible (Absolutely nothing bad about THAT!)
  8. Plan for sex after luxuriating in a warm bath or using a moist heat application, both of which ease FM pain, inflammation, muscle spasms, and stiffness.
  9. Experiment with different sexual positions. There are plenty of activities and positions that are ideal for fatigue; and many ways to avoid painful sex. And have fun trying them ALL out!
  10. Enjoy each other despite flare ups. Part of this is not being so goal-oriented during a love-making session. Allow things to happen as they can.
  11. Stay physically connected by just cuddling (unless such is not made possible by allondynia, where the brain misinterprets neutral or pleasant stimuli for pain).

Finally? Don’t give up. It might feel like you’re never going to want to have sex ever again – but that’s the fibro talking, not you. Lust strikes at the oddest moment, and people can have sex in a myriad of ways. So have fun exploring what works best for you. and you’ll feel IT again. And when you do, take advantage of it, and enjoy it!

N.B. This whole post (and the research involved) developed from me wanting to tell you about the new thongs/g-strings now available in my shop. However, as I looked into it more, it became increasingly difficult to ask if you were feeling unapologetically naughty. Hmm – obviously, I did anyway.

Diet of Desperation

I always have fish and chips on a Monday, except I don’t eat fish so it’s either a hamburger or souvlaki. Sometime during the week, I have a pepperoni pizza; and another day, it’s a cheese pizza. Chinese take-out is on Thursday. In there, as well, is a hell of a lot of Cadbury’s, and maybe some ice-cream.

Yes, my diet sucks. But I’m too scared to change it!

I suffer from depression and I take 100mg of sertraline (anti-depressant) daily. It took 3 years of experimentation and dark, scary days to reach a place where, despite everything, I’m pretty good. Antidepressants are also called serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, preventing the supply of serotonin in the brain from going down. However, antidepressants are not the only way to elevate serotonin levels. Many ordinary people self-medicate when they are feeling depressed by eating lots of carbohydrates.

R.I.P Davy Jones

I don’t question this theory – in fact, I am a total believer.

Here is how ingesting sugar – or some carbohydrate that is broken down into sugar after digestion – can alter our mood for the better. When we digest carbohydrates, our blood sugar levels rise, and then insulin is secreted, lowering the blood levels of most amino acids with the exception of tryptophan, which is a precursor to serotonin. When there is more tryptophan than other amino acids, it enters the brain at a higher rate,[1] potentially alleviating a functional deficiency in brain serotonin and thus serving as self-medication.[2]  The brain then produces more serotonin. Studies focused on this link appear to back this up: high carbohydrate meals raise serotonin,[3] while fatty or protein rich meals tend to lower it. The type of carbohydrate chosen seems to be based upon its glycemic index, or how high it causes blood sugar levels to peak. The higher glycemic index carbohydrates like sugar have a greater effect on serotonin than starchy, lower glycemic index foods like potatoes.[4]

And it’s not just sugar that we crave: certain alkaloids have been isolated in chocolate that may raise brain serotonin levels.[5] Scientists now speculate that chocolate addiction may actually have a real biological basis with a serotonin deficiency being one factor.[6] Another basis that has been proposed for why chocolate has such a powerful influence on mood is that chocolate has ‘drug-like’ ingredients including anandamines, caffeine, and phenylethylamine.[7]

Expert tips to avoid the cravings include:

  • Be honest with yourself about how deep your problems with food go – I figure I can’t really be more honest than this!
  • Distract yourself by doing something else – oh yeah! because that works for the 61.5% of the Australian adult population considered overweight or obese! (Sorry – couldn’t find up to date figures on ALL the other countries!)
  • Exercise! Exercise stimulates the feel-better chemicals called endorphins and improves your mood. But it’s awfully hard to exercise when you can’t get yourself out of bed…
  • Drink a glass of water. Really? (need I say more?)
  • Be mindful of what you are consuming rather than grazing all day. A food journal can be very helpful – if you want to keep track of what you will need from the supermarket!

So, when doctors, websites, other bloggers, family and friends tell me that perhaps I need to alter my diet to help with my FM, all I can think of is the return of the Big Black Dog.

 

P.S. I love footnotes!


[1] Gendall & Joyce, 2000; Sayegh et al., 1995; Velasquez-Mieyer et al., 2003; Wurtman & Wurtman, 1995

[2] Pijl et al, 1993; Spring, Chiodo & Bowen, 1987; Wurtman, 1990; Wurtman & Wurtman, 1995

[3] Rouch C, Nicolaidis S, Orosco M. ‘Determination Using Microdialysis, of Hypothalamic Serotonin Variations in Response to Different Macronutrients’ Physiological Behaviour 1999 Jan 1-15;65(4-5):653-7.

[4] Lyons PM, Truswell AS. ‘Serotonin Precursor Influenced by Type of Carbohydrate Meal in Healthy Adults. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1988 Mar;47(3):433-9.

[5] Herraiz T. ‘Tetrahydro-beta-carbolines, Potential Neuroactive Alkaloids, in Chocolate and Cocoa’ Journal of  Agriculture, Food and Chemicals 2000 Oct;48(10):4900-4

[6] Bruinsma K, Taren DL. ‘Chocolate: Food or Drug?’ Journal of American Diet Association 1999 Oct;99(10):1249-56

[7] Benton D, Donohoe RT. ‘The Effects of Nutrients on Mood’ Public Health Nutrition 1999 Sep;2(3A):403-9