Connecting with Love and Happiness

Love… It is such a short word that requires a rich vocabulary. In the book The Art of Loving, Erich Fromm discusses how the practice of this “art” is highly personal and not a goal with steps He talks about the need for discipline, concentration, patience, supreme concern, and that you also need to be sensitive toward yourself and know yourself (aka you have to overcome your narcissism). It includes objectivity, reason and humility. It is always productive, courageous and requires a commitment without a guarantee.

Love has particularly been on my mind over the past two months. I’ve experienced grief but a grief that was better understood when I viewed it from a love lens. Someone I’ve loved my whole life lost someone they love, who I’ve also known their whole life. One of my associates and I also had a good dialog about love vs. obsession, and then the viral experiment, “36 Questions that Lead to Love,” came across my desk. The questions are designed to help people feel closer (ask me for it and I’ll forward the questions). As a therapist, I can’t help but also see the framework of how crucial our early attachments are. Are you loveable? This belief is sometimes a place to start in our sessions, not only understanding your own belief about this but perhaps even reframing the relationships that have affected you.

A word therapists use a lot is reframe. What if we reframed Stress? Harvard researchers did a study and found that in a tough situation, stress makes you stronger. Not only that, but if you view stress this way, you appear more confident, more personable and more successful in stressful situations. One of my first blogs from 2010 was that happier people take risks. This article says similarly that by pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, you can find the typical stressful situations enjoyable and even thrilling. There are lots of other ideas in the article about managing stress- I would guess you heard them before, but they are still being published because they are consistently successful; they work over and over again.

And meditation… also, such a familiar word for many of you, but “the world’s happiest man” swears by it. Melinda Zetlin wrote about it here. I contacted her to find out what meditations people were actually listening to. After hunting it down, one of the authors of the study wrote me back and shared his file of the 15 minute- meditations. I am happy to forward them to anyone wanting them!

We all want to “feel better There’s been a lot of positive information about how Dopamine and Seratonin are important for us to access and also how simple it is to get the rewarding “boost” or release they give us.

DOPAMINE… It seems that everywhere we look we see it mentioned. In simple terms, Dopamine is a chemical released in the brain that makes you feel good. It is the pleasure we feel by laughing, finishing a task, celebrating the “little wins” (when you don’t hit red lights or traffic when you are running late; finding the “close” parking spot on your errand, or getting a good grade on a school assignment). Now that you know that, how do you get more? Have you heard of Dopamine menus? This video talks about this idea and not planning ahead on how to boost your dopamine is like “going to the grocery store already hungry” . Remember, when you are low on dopamine, you are going to run into problems like, “I don’t want to change my clothes to go for a run-it sounds like too much work,” or “I don’t even know what to draw or paint so I don’t want to do any art.” Make your menu thoughtfully when your head is in a better place. What is on your menu?

Serotonin is even more important as our sunny days become shorter and grayer. It’s our natural mood stabilizer that keeps us balanced a little longer than the quick boost of dopamine, and to prevent or stave off how depleted or irritable we get. It regulates your mood, sleep, digestion, nausea, and even sexual desire. While a great work-out might get you going, on the days you just can’t find it in you, going outside for a short walk or even, perhaps surprisingly, laughter and some stretching can activate that stabilizing chemical release. When I can’t take the time to be active, I CAN get up from my office chair and stretch. Who knew that so little from us could actually benefit our attitudes and our productivity? And… when you just don’t have it in you to do much at all, the good old light box has still been shown to increase serotonin.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the caveat to these simple “fixes” from Dopamine and Seratonin: Using alcohol or any other chemical we put into our bodies in a dependent way renders those natural chemical releases useless. When artificial means give us that “bump” in our mood and we depend on them to feel that shift, Dopamine and Seratonin stop being released. (Think of it as a bicycle that gets rusty when it’s left out in the rain over time.) But wouldn’t it be a lot simpler to take a 5-minute break to sing to your favorite song? To be clearer, this article says outright: Dopamine does not make you happy. It increases desire (think scrolling your phone, eating sweets), so choose thoughtfully.

As a side note, you have possibly heard me talk a lot about curiousity, especially lately. We have all noticed the culture of shaming and judging, and being a curious person can only bring clarity and understanding to our relationships, not to mention emotional intelligence, learning, problem-solving and self-awareness. Turns out, being curious also releases dopamine!

Feel some love, get yourself regulated, and stay curious. We are here for you and with you.

*** We are so happy to announce we were just accredited by the Better Business Bureau! And if you have not had a chance yet to check us out on TikTok and Instagram, the recent videos and information I have been posting have included not only anxiety and depression, but some interesting takeaways about how we communicate when experiencing stress and trauma, as well as some gratitude prompts***

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Lynn Zakeri

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