Many people have their dream careers and lives, yet at the end of the day, they realize they aren’t really happy. A lot of my patients tell me they feel overwhelmed with work and family obligations, and that they don’t have time to stop and smell the roses. In this show, you’re going to meet some extraordinary people who have reclaimed their happiness and can show you how to experience the joy that may be missing in your life.
As a vice president for a corporation, Valerie Sheppard was living her dream in California. But underneath the success, she knew something was missing. “You know, I didn’t seem fulfilled. I didn’t feel this sense of ‘this is what my life is supposed to be for.’ There’s more to life, I think than being good at what we do.” Valerie shares her experience of putting on, what she calls her “happy mask” in the office, but being in tears by the time she reached her car every day. Then her health began to suffer. First, an issue developed with her heart, then she suffered a catastrophic stroke. Valerie tells me about her road to recovery and the lessons she learned about recognizing true happiness and how to choose it.
My guest Paula Felps is a science editor for “Live Happy Magazine”. Paula and I discuss the very real connection between happiness, or satisfaction with your life, and the effect it has on your health. She tells me, “There’s studies that show people who are happier have better cardiovascular health. They have a better response to stress. They have stronger immune systems.” New research is even showing that happier people heal more quickly from injuries. So what is happiness exactly, how do you know whether you’re happy or not? Paula breaks it down for me and explains that happiness is not just that giddy feeling, but is more about contentment. She says it’s about finding the things in life that delight you and the sense of satisfaction we experience when we flourish and reach our full potential.
Just like our metabolism, Paula says, we each have our own unique happiness setpoint. If you’re not one of those lucky people for whom it comes naturally, Paula shares choices and principles you can practice to increase your happiness quotient. She also shares with me the ways in which we can help our children with their happiness setpoint, to put them on the path to living longer, happier lives.
Known as “Dr. Success”, Dr. Andrea Goeglein, is an expert in positive psychology. Dr. Goeglein explains how she works with clients to help them understand how to bring happiness, or a positive outlook, into their day-to-day lives. She says, rather than happiness being this mysterious whole, overall experience, it actually comes in parts or in sections of your life. Dr. Goeglein tells me how she helps people to recognize their unique characteristics, and how to use them to bring more happiness into their lives. “You bring them to work or in everything that you do. And it is amazing how that thing known as happiness shows up in your life,” she says. The “parts” she’s referring to are things like having engagement, relationships, meaning, and achievement.
Like everything, lasting happiness is a process. “You have to set the intention and make the effort,” Dr. Goeglein tells me, “it’s the effort that will give you the life that you actually want.” She explains her techniques for helping people recognize and remember the moments that make them feel good. However, sometimes it’s your environment and real change is needed. Dr. Goeglein points out that we often have more control than we realize. She reminds us that we each have to take personal responsibility to create the happiness we seek.
Despite suffering a childhood of abuse, a breast cancer diagnosis, and facial paralysis, my guest Monya Williams tells me how she ultimately managed to find and choose happiness. In an amazing story, Monya shares the heart-mind connection she created by making a truly conscious choice to be happy and working on it every day. Monya tells me she set herself two challenges. One had her literally smiling again, something her doctor said wasn’t possible due to her facial paralysis.
The second challenge has given her a new lifetime practice of creating happiness, not only for herself but for others. Monya shares the effect her daily practice of random acts of kindness had on her, “I changed ~ at the end of the year when I looked at my book of what I had done, I realized it was a gradual change that had happened to me.” Monya explains how every morning she’d wake up and think about what she wanted to do and for whom. As a doctor, I can attest to the amazing things that happen to your physical and mental health from choosing to be happy. Your cortisol and your epinephrine go down, your stress level goes down, and your body’s inflammation decreases.
Relationship expert Stacy Kaiser joins me to help guide us on our journey to happiness. Stacy tells me about the importance of balance in our lives with respect to alone time and social time. Both are important, she says, because both bring different aspects of energy to us. I’m sure you’ve noticed when you’re around other people, the energy can be contagious. As Stacy says, “That smile, it passes along to one another”.
When it comes to toxic relationships, Stacy explains there are two basic types. There are the ones you need to find a way to work with, like a family member, boss or neighbor. Then there are the ones you can try to minimize or cut out if the negativity is too much. Stacy shares some important advice, “What I always recommend people do is they really take a good assessment of their life and they say, ‘What is missing? Do I need more hobbies? Do I need more free time?” And sometimes, it’s something big, like getting a new job to make you feel better.”
Dan Buettner, the bestselling author of the Blue Zones series, weighs in with his statistical findings. Dan explains that the “Blue Zones” is a series of books about worldwide studies that determine the regions where people live the longest, are the healthiest, happiest, and so on. Dan tells me his recent research on happiness showed only about 40% is determined by our genes, 15% is pure chance and a whopping 45% is under our direct control. Among those factors is our diet, “We find that people eating about five servings of vegetables a day are about 20% happier than people who just eat meat and cheese and eggs, etc.,” Dan says.
Breaking it down even further, Dan shares the main activities people in the happiness blue zones are doing. The good news – these are easy things we can all do. The happiest people are getting about seven-and-a-half hours of sleep a night. They are moving at least 45-minutes a day. They have in-person, face-to-face socialization between six and seven hours a day – and that doesn’t include FaceBook. And when they’re at home, they only watch about an hour of TV a day, choosing instead to spend quality time with their families.