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What Brings You Happiness?
Sometimes happiness can feel so far away and hard to get back in touch with, writes this reader. But all is not lost.
Hello out there! One of my readers wrote me a thought-provoking note that I’d like to share:
Since turning 50, I’ve had challenges feeling true happiness.
Granted, life is changing. My twins will soon be off to college, and I’m reassessing my career choice (teacher) and thinking about going back to school for something totally different (interior design). And…I’m going through menopause. I realize that itself can have a lot to do with things I’m feeling, like anxiety, depression, panic attacks and overall blah-ness, which I’m prone to, anyway. I know that hormones are responsible for so many of these things, but will this ever end? I feel so lousy (and sorry for myself), that I end up canceling plans with friends. All I want to do is curl up and binge on Netflix.
I’m sure so many of us can relate. I know that when I was going through menopause, every (bad) thing I felt was magnified so much.
Here’s what I’d tell this reader: It’s not your imagination; fluctuating hormones definitely cause you to sometimes feel anxious or depressed. If you were prone to anxiety in the past, or suffered from PMS or postpartum depression, then you’re even more likely to feel these things during menopause. Additionally, if night sweats are keeping you awake at night, then there’s another reason for feeling yucky the next day (and the day after that, ad nauseum). Lack of sleep - good, restorative sleep - can really dampen your moods.
And this: Some people are born happy and are naturally (nauseatingly?) happy; they wake up happy, have a happy attitude no matter what challenges come their way. Somehow, they’re able to remain positive and cheery in situations that would drive other people mad, and send them into fits of tears, despair and despondency.
I’ve been reading about happiness lately, and there’s really interesting information as it relates to our social ties. I do think that focusing on your relationships can help cushion many feelings of isolation, anxiety and depression – not only during the menopause years but always.
From decades of studies, one thing is very clear: Relationships contribute heavily toward a happy life. On the flip side, loneliness can be damaging to both our mental and physical health, according to so many other studies, one of which calls it “an epidemic in modern society.”
So, what do you need, in terms of relationships, to feel happy? Here are my top three:
1. Nurture and develop relationships. Friends can go by the wayside; we all get caught up in our own lives and sometimes find it hard to dig our way out. And with that, we can neglect our friendships. A short text to let a friend know you’re thinking of them not only will make you feel good, it will make them happy, too.
2. Go beyond the text. It has its place, yes. Texting is so easy, and it makes it so easy to stay in touch. And yet…there is no substitute for the sound of another person’s voice. I recently wrote about having an hour-long phone conversation with an old friend (when I first called her, I felt so down and was prepared for tears, but we ended up having an uproarious conversation and my stomach hurt from laughing so hard and for so long!)
3. Sharpen your small-talk skills. It can be challenging to know how to start a conversation with a stranger (or sometimes you’re just not in the mood), but doing so can really lift your mood (and their’s, too). These brief encounters can really turn your day around. Sometimes I challenge for myself for some “silent small talk;” to get someone who looks really grumpy to smile by making eye contact and smiling at them. They might look at me and smile back, or other times look uncomfortable and continue to glare. (I never feel bad for trying, though. They’re not rejecting me…they don’t even know me.) Some small talk ideas: “How’s your day going?” “What a cute dog/baby/pair of boots you have.” You never know what a brief encounter will give you back in return; sometimes, nothing, but other times, a new friend, a new idea or just a new feeling about things in general.
Feel free to chime in and share what you do to nurture your happiness. We’re all in this together, and can learn from one another!
For a Pause…
1. I’ve wanted to read this book for a long time, and writing this has convinced me it’s time. Since I’m (mostly) an introvert as well as a highly sensitive person (who sometimes needs to hide from the noise of the world), the title speaks to me: Sensitive: The Hidden Power of the Highly Sensitive Person in a Loud, Fast, Too-Much World.”
2. What I’m learning from a few good friends of mine: Sometimes sending a gift – just because – is the greatest gift. One friend shared this olive oil that she loves, and every time I use it, I think of her and smile. Another friend, after I admired hers, gifted me with the same eyeglass case. (Thank you again, my thoughtful friends!)
3. Friends over family? “Having supportive friendships in old age was found to be a stronger predictor of wellbeing than having strong family connections,” says this article in Time Magazine.
4. Some more to consider on happiness from psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, who says: “Those who kept warm relationships got to live longer and happier…and the loners often died earlier. Loneliness kills,” he said, calling it “as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.”
One More Thing:
A Ted talk that talks about…what else? Happiness. Definitely worth a listen!
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