What is the secret to happiness? Some are born with a happy disposition and are blessed with the ability to carry that positivity through life effortlessly, despite the pitfalls life invariably throws at us. Yet for the majority of us, happiness is a choice that we make. We choose happiness over sadness, and tell ourselves that we can’t always control what happens to us in life, but we can control the way we decide to feel about it.
Incidentally, our physiology and chemical make-up predispose us to stress and anxiety. This is a vestige from the more stressful days of early human evolution, when vigilance and anxiety meant survival and complacency meant death. However in modern times, stress and anxiety have become pathologic for many, and the internet and the 24 hour news cycle connect us in unprecedented ways with tragedies and current events worldwide. While this has given society an awareness we didn’t have before, a constant stream of horrible news can lead to sleepless nights, worry for oneself and one’s family, and fear about the state of the world moving forward.
But what if there were a scientifically proven method for becoming a happier person, accepting what happens to us in life with a compassionate heart and without fear and self loathing? Its an interesting concept, and one that is gaining a great deal of attention in the medical community.
Dr. Amit Sood is a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic, and has made it his life’s work to help guide people to a happier existence. Dr. Sood has developed a method for increasing happiness- Attention and Interpretation Therapy (AIT) which utilizes the Stress Management and Reduction Training (SMART). There are several scholarly articles as well as published research on these methods that demonstrate measurable increases in the level of their subject’s happiness (http://stressfree.org/research/). SMART works through initially exploring the default mode of the brain, which instinctually focuses on perceived threats and imperfections, with the hope that through understanding the natural human thought process and emotional reaction to stress and obstacles, self-awareness and empowerment will emerge. The next step focuses on developing various emotional skills, amongst them compassion, acceptance, forgiveness, and gratitude. Through practicing the enhancement of these skills, this “emotional training” provides increased emotional awareness, resiliency, reduction of stress, improved relationships, and improved work performance.
Dr. Sood maintains a website called stressfree.org. Click here for a great video of Dr. Sood discussing happiness and resilient living.
As with any skill set, practice makes perfect. This is training designed not to work overnight, but meant to be practiced over time. By becoming conscious of the way we feel about negative situations, and engaging in our emotions, emotional intelligence emerges and this can in turn improve our happiness level as well as interpersonal relationships.
So, it seems, choosing happiness appears to be a result of engaging in our feelings, becoming self-aware, and practicing positive emotions like gratitude, compassion, and forgiveness. Happiness can be a gift we give ourselves those around us, and it starts with choosing to practice it in our lives on a daily basis.