Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Be Happy

Happiness is the flip side of Depression. Happy people don't say "I'm depressed. I'm anxious." So naturally wellness involves a movement from depression to happiness.
Modern psychiatry or some might say post modern psychiatry has increasingly focussed it's attention on the study of wellness in addition to the study of sickness or pathology.
Spirituality and Psychiatry, editted by Cook, Powell and Sims, 2009 is just one of the recent resources looking at just what it is to be happy. Koenig, Co director of the Duke University Centre for Spirituality, and Health has long studied the tautological relationship between psychological terms, psychiatric terms, terms of spirituality and religion.
Joy is a term commonly used in religion, for example C.S. Lewis' , foremost Christian theologian of the 20th Century's classic autobiographical work of well being was titled "Surprised by Joy"
Happiness is perhaps the 'lighter' side of the joyful or transcendent equation which has made it also the study of philosophers, a group often known having equal dourness to those described with excessiive 'religiosity'. Happiness hasn't really captured the attention of the obsessively intellectual yet but it still holds it's place in Philosophy as it does in Theology.
Plato, and Cicero, "a happy life consists in tranquillity of mind" and Montaigne have all considered its relevance to philosophy. Indeed today Happiness continues to be the study of modern philosophy as evidenced by the title of Prof. Solere's 2005 lecture, Passion, Pleasure and Happiness in Modern Philsophy.
Indeed happiness, joy, well being, are the subject of study in all the social sciences from anthropology, psychology, sociology to todays functional MRI studies of physiological correlates of positive experience in the Behavioural Scientist laboratory of the likes of Davidson and others,
Physicians today indeed know without much controversy what is required for happiness or positive well being. Certainly there's exercise, and food, and a relational world such as family or community, and some form of positive identification with purpose or work.
Years back the World Health Organization did a study of what those living over a 100 had in common. It wasn't very profound but it was extremely telling. They were all 'lean'. No fat people, no gluttons, lived long lives. Yet given the qualitative and quantitative analysis, if on a scale of 1-10, happiness was 10, a hundred years of happiness would be more so than merely a night. I think Timothy Leary and especially Richard Alpert their LSD experiments of 'instant happiness' put to rest that a single night of 'high' was worth a life time of low. Indeed the 12 step movement originating with Alcoholics Anonymous the spiritual group following on the work of Dr. Carl J and Rev. Frank Buchman emphasized that spirituality and happiness needed to be seen as a "one day at a time" life long experience.
The "Longevity" studies such as Framingham Study and Grant Study have themselves attempted to look at what is happiness and how it applies to well being, physically, psychologically and socially.
To come back to those living over a hundred, the lean people, what was also noted was that they all worked and they all exercised. These three facts were fundamental to the all those studies. The best example as I remember it at the time was of the oldest man in the study, some East European at the ripe old age of 116 or thereabouts. He was the town post man and daily rode to town to sort the mail. What was so endearing was that he'd saddle his horse and ride the one or two miles to town where the post office served the less than a dozen or so members of his community. After that he'd ride home.
Today my father is in his 90's and I feel 'guilty' because I know he feels like he's in God's waiting room to some extent existing as a 'geriatric' in our primitive western culture where happiness is as often as overlooked as spirituality in the societal equations of power and wealth.
Cicero didn't find much happiness in the wealthy and powerful of the Rome of his day. Walden Pond by Thoreau is indeed a study of living well with emphasis on simplicity and indeed frugality. Ironically happiness is as much a product of less as it is more which of course comes as profound shock to a pac man society of consumer mentality.
So what happens when I as a clinician tell someone to Be Happy. Indeed increasingly when I encounter depression and anxiety in my practice I look to the work of Martin Seligman on Positive Psychology
and increasingly like a psychic physiotherapist encourge 'strenghthing the muscles of well being' rather than focussing on the injured muscles of illness. Encouraging Laughter along the lines of the Norman Cousins, Humor Therapy is not surprisingly as 'hard" as sell as encouraging walking in the obese or abstinence in the alcoholic.

1 comment:

Jacqueline Johns - Your Happy Life Mentor said...

I am so grateful that I haven't had to study the sages or even gain a PhD to learn about happiness!

All I have done is study myself, and work out what I do that others don't in order to make me The Happiest Person I Know.

What did I do right to deserve this gift?

Live Life Happy!