Finding Spontaneous Happiness in 2012

“Happiness is one of the many moods available to us if we allow for healthy variability of our emotional life.” – Dr. Andrew Weil

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When it comes down to it, the underlying motivator behind most New Year’s resolutions is the pursuit of happiness. Losing weight, learning to make jam, traveling to a different country– all are activities or states of being that we believe will bring us joy, albeit in different ways. I was fortunate to attend a lecture given by Dr. Andrew Weil highlighting his latest book “Spontaneous Happiness” back in November, and his 8-week program for emotional well-being is particularly suited for examining why and how we approach resolutions. His position that emotional balance must come from within, since reaching external goals often just leads to disappointment, is especially poignant for our consumer-driven culture, which is experiencing rising levels of depression and anxiety.

“Spontaneous Happiness” is a great read for starting off the New Year in a healthy and happy state using the principles of integrative mental health. This alternative science looks at self-healing actions that approach happiness as a skill to be cultivated, not a place to be reached via anti-depression drugs or anti-anxiety meds favored by the current biomedical model*. When we are content with ourselves, we are able to connect more deeply with family, friends, neighbors and, ultimately, the environment.

Blending modern psychology, medicine and ancient wisdom, here’s a snapshot of the simple yet life-changing findings in Dr. Weil’s holistic mental health book:

  • Just as we have both cloudy and sunny days, we are all sad at some times and happy at others; such changes are part of dynamic balance.
  • Some depression might stem from the fact that there is a mismatch between the modern post-industrial environment and our genetic heritage.
  • In numerous studies, antidepressant medications were not found to work any better than placebos. Lifestyles changes and a mind-body approach provided the most significant and lasting results.
  • Meditate twice a day. Start with 3 minutes and work up from there.
  • Eat wild-caught fish or take supplements to make sure you are getting enough Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids. Good sources are salmon, sardines and herring.
  • Do aerobic exercise daily – walk, run, do yoga!
  • Provide you brain with “mental nutrition.” Take a break from watching the news and read a fun book instead. Limit exposure to “data smog” (i.e. overload of digital information by spending too much time online or checking email).
  • Get enough sleep. Make sure blinds or curtains don’t let in light, set your bedtime so you log 7-8 hours of sleep, and try natural sleep aids like Valerian if you toss and turn.
  • Incorporate Ayurvedic ingredients into food preparation, such as the herb Holy Basil or cooking oil Ghee.

*The recommendations in the book are primarily for healthy individuals or those suffering mild to moderate depression. The book may be very useful as an adjunctive treatment for major depressive disorder, but should not be used in place of medication or other standard therapies.

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