Six Practices to Stay Happy in Trying Times

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by Theresa Conti

“Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace and gratitude.

  • Denis Waitley

We’ve all heard the slogan Laughter is Good Medicine.

 According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter:

  1. Increases our intake of oxygen, stimulates our organs and increases endorphins;
  2. Activates and cools down our stress response and aids in relaxation; 
  3. Improves our immune system;
  4. Reduces pain by stimulating the body’s natural painkillers;
  5. Makes it easier to cope with difficult situations; and
  6. Can help lessen depression and anxiety, and lead to feeling happier.

The rise of the coronavirus has left many of us feeling vulnerable, particularly as restrictions in Italy have become more severe. Perhaps we’re worried about our own or someone else’s health, are concerned about financial repercussions, have kids out of school and need childcare, or are experiencing other stressors. As expats, the precautions that have been implemented to keep us safe and minimize the spread of the coronavirus may result in feeling isolated, as our support and social networks have been affected, leaving us without the connections we’ve come to depend on. But in spite of our circumstances, we can still find ways to bolster our moods and feel inspired and happy.

Dr. Sven Svenback of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology tracked 54,000 Norwegians for seven years and discovered that those individuals who found life the funniest lived longer. In fact, people were 35% more likely to survive longer. 

In 2015, the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, published the “A 15-Year Follow Up Study of Sense of Humor and Causes of Mortality.” The study followed over 53,000 participants and found a sense of humor was positively associated with survival for people with cardiovascular disease and infections. A sense of humor provides a very real health protecting and coping mechanism that ultimately leads to longer life. (1)

I’ve been thinking a lot about Normal Cousins as I reflect on our current health crisis. Cousins’ was a longtime editor of the Saturday Review who healed himself from a chronic degenerative disease in 1964 by watching episodes of Candid Camera and old reruns of the Marx Brothers. He wrote that 10-minutes a day of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect, and gave him two hours of pain-free sleep with no residual side effects, except perhaps a greater sense of joy and happiness. 

Cousins wrote about his experience, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine  – a must read for the nation’s physicians – entitled Anatomy of an Illness (he later wrote a book by the same name). Although he says the treatment he employed might have been a result of the placebo effect, he goes on to say that “the doctor who resides within was a powerful one.” If you like, you can find his books online.

Stress can be debilitating, but we can learn to manage and minimize its effects. Here are six practice that we can do to help ourselves feel better. 

  1. Humor:  Find movies that tickle your funny bone and make you laugh or are uplifhting and inspiring. If you don’t have an online entertainment program, such as Netflix or Amazon, consider subscribing. Some websites, such as Netflix, let you subscribe on a month-to-month basis, with no long-term commitments.
  2. Meditation: We spent a great deal of time thinking about the past and projecting about the future, but spend little time in the present moment, where we live, and are generally okay.  Here’s a meditation by Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, one of my favorite teachers:

Sitting upright with eyes closed and hands placed gently on your lap, silently repeat the first and third lines of the meditation as you breathe in, and the second and fourth lines as you breathe out. Many of my students and clients have experienced a deep sense of inner peace while using this simple meditation. Repeat the meditation three times. Then sit quietly for a few minutes, letting your mind and body rest.

  1. Breathing in, I calm my body (Repeat silently as you breathe in)
  2. Breathing out, I smile   (Repeat silently as you breathe out, while letting your lips curl into a half smile)
  3. Dwelling in the present moment (Repeat silently as you breathe in)
  4. I know this is a wonderful moment (Repeat silently as you breathe out).

    3. Gratitude: The brain is naturally tilted toward the negative, based on our ancestors’ needs for survival. Gratitude helps us refocus our attention on the positive– not to deny life’s challenges, but to help us gain a more balanced perspective. 

Results from the Greater Good Science Center’s Thnx4 project found that participants who kept an online gratitude journal for two weeks reported better physical health, including fewer headaches, less stomach pain, clearer skin, and reduced congestion. (2)

Suggested PracticeLook for good facts throughout the day and take a few seconds to appreciate them. For instance, the air you breathe, the comfort of your bed, the smile on your child’s face, the taste of coffee, a call from a friend, the sun shining through your window, a movie that makes you smile. Then, for the next two weeks write three things you’re grateful for at the end of every day. Experiment, and see how the practice works for you. 

Note: Good facts are based on reality and can be found in every day experiences. 

4. Stay Connected: Connect with friends, loved ones, teachers and colleagues online: Skype, Facetime, WhatsApp, and Messenger all have text and calling functions. Skype also has annual program you can subscribe to that allows you to make unlimited calls to land lines and cell phones in a particular country for an annual fee. For instance, I have one that I use to call family and friends in the USA.  Staying at home doesn’t mean we have to be alone. 

5. Beauty: Beauty is nature’s healer. Some studies indicate that even looking at pictures of nature effect our mental and physical well-being. 

A large-scale experiment conducted on 120 subjects ascertained the ‘nature-connection’ in stress reduction and coping. Each participant observed visuals of either a natural landscape or an urban environment. The data obtained from this survey revealed that participants who looked at the picture of a natural setting had low scores on stress scales and had better heartbeat and pulse counts. 

Furthermore, investigators also found that the stress recovery rate was much higher in participants who got a natural exposure than the ones who saw urbanized ambiances. The flow of this study strongly indicated the role nature plays in improving our general mental health conditions, including stress (Roger, Ulrich, Simons, Losito, Fiorito, Miles, Zelson) (3)

Suggested PracticeIf you’re outdoor activities are restricted, find ways to connect with nature. For instance, enjoy the trees outside your window, or look at pictures or videos of nature you’ve either taken or can find online. Then, notice the good feelings that arise as you look at them and let the sensations soak down into your body for five to 10 seconds. Research shows that taking in the good on a consistent basis has a positive effect on our well-being. I recently found a video about the Antarctica that was breathtaking, and was so enamored, I watched it several times!

6. Media Consumption: Stay informed, but don’t let the media consume you.  

Wishing you good health and happiness!

With love,

Theresa

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Theresa Conti
Theresa Conti was born and raised in New York. She is a Certified Life Coach, Energy Healing Practitioner, Workshop Facilitator and Author with more than 25 years’ experience. Her books include Alphabet Affirmations: Transform Your Life and Love Yourself, and I Am the Treasure. Theresa specializes in helping her clients manage their stress, and develop inner resources, like confidence, courage and resilience, so they can live with greater ease, realize their goals and dreams and better meet life's challenges. She is also a qualified English teacher and editor and often brings her coaching skills into her teaching to facilitate her clients’ learning. She offers a complimentary consultation to get acquainted, discuss your goals and see how you might work together. She can be reached at Theresa@reconnecting2you.com.

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