Happiness. Peace. Joy. Whatever name fits best, I have a checklist for it.
How I came to it in a nutshell: I got tired of studying “issues.” I’d talked mine to death and I still felt ineffective, stuck, and vulnerable. I then met survivors of harrowing situations (typhoons Ketsana and Haiyan, political prisoners and more) whose unbowed — truly positive — spirits inspired me, humbled me, and kicked my butt into gear: enough with the talking and analyzing, said my newly sore behind…study happiness, you goof.
I’ll add here that I have an autoinflammatory condition. When someone around me is sick, I get sick…which isn’t uncommon. But while most people might have an inflammatory reaction to fight off the bugs then go back to normal, my inflammation keeps going. And going. I was getting sick every month and a half and each bout lasted 2-4 weeks. Sick was my new normal. While my flare-ups aren’t so debilitating, chronic inflammation is never a good thing and stress is closely linked to inflammation, as is depression. I’m in a great study at the NIH and getting the best care for it but I need to do my part, too. Getting my mind balanced and happy was as much a matter of emotion and mood, good parenting, and success, as it was about my physical health. I have two young children. It’s important to me that they see their mom run a business, run her home, and run around with them — up, peppy, positive and strong. I am committed to giving them good values — among them, kindness and empathy, a love of books, hard work, stick-to-it-ive-ness, and health….which includes happiness. For my brain, for my body, and for my family, I needed to get happy.
This is true for everybody’s health in general, by the way. Several strong studies link happiness with physical health — everything from a reduced chance of a heart attack to being able to fight off infection better. In skin, the link is well-known and instantly visible. Acne, psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis, rosacea, and eczema are just a few of the many inflammatory skin conditions triggered by stress. And while anecdotal, I’d argue everyone notices the special glow that truly happy, peaceful, centered people radiate. We can promote vibrancy with a treatment that rapidly renews skin cells and faux a sun-kissed glow with a great bronzer, but the radiance from deep-within joy just doesn’t come in a tube or bottle.
I am spiritual, disciplined, and a thinker, and have done lots to try to calm and better myself. But this time, I wanted something stickier and…sneakier: reliable, tangible practices that could “trick” my brain into positivity when I’d lost that battle with my mind and spirit. I wanted simple tools that “stuck,” that changed my brain’s wiring, and that yielded consistently reliable, replicable results. I arrived at these five. I am no doctor or otherwise qualified professional. I’ve found tools that have helped me and I believe goodness begets goodness, so I thought I’d share them.
This is my list:
- Gratitude Journal;
- Daily Exercise;
- Strict Schedule (Deliberate Practice);
- Want What You Have;
- Be In The Now.
I call it my happiness inventory as much as my checklist. Like a checklist, it is an itemization of things I must do. But it is also a gauge of whether or not my “supplies” are well stocked. If I’m feeling off — down or anxious —I’ll review it and will find I’ve probably been less good about one or another item. My “supply” of, say, being strict about my schedule, is low. I’ll “stock up” there and, with consistency, return to balance.
The change was profound without my noticing. I began to sleep easily and peacefully, for an entire 8 hours — a new experience for me. One day about three months into the gratitude journal, I got news that should have sent me spiraling. Instead, I went, “hmmm, that sucks.” And that was that. I remember sitting up with a start, thinking, why am I not freaking out? Is this it? Have I gone off the deep end? Will this knock me to the ground in a day or two? Instead, it barely registered. I knew the problem was there and went about fixing it. But I was…fine. Like, water-off-a-duck’s-back fine. And all this okay-ness just kept going. It’s not like my life turned into a garden of magical butterflies sprinkling fairy pollen onto my head either. Crap still happened…it just didn’t derail me. If it was big crap, I could see what had to be done and get to doing it — I could see the turd instead of stepping in it, if you know what I mean. Now, when I feel on the edge of something bad, my list helps me see the ick as yet outside of me. It gives me solid ground to keep me from falling, and tangible footholds for climbing back out should I slip. And when something bad does happen, I’m able to buy myself some distance, to just observe it for a few seconds, so that I can calm myself and craft a healthier response.
“The lowest ebb is the turn of the tide,” says the sign at the end of the hallway in our cottage at the beach. I’d always loved that message and believe in the phenomenal power of hope. But I’ve also learned that high tides don’t solve everything and that the lowest ebb does reveal ancient shells and cool crabs and beautiful starfish. There is always happiness, high tide or low, in any season. One need only remember to choose it and remember that it is a skill, and like any skill, it needs to be practiced.
How do you stay happy?
Laura is the CEO of VMV Hypoallergenics and eldest daughter of our founding dermatologist-dermatopathologist. She has two children, Madison and Gavin, and works at VMV with her sister and husband (Madison and Gavin frequently volunteer their “usage testing” services). In addition to saving the world’s skin, Laura is passionate about learning, literature, art, health, science, inclusion, cultural theory, human rights, happiness and goodness.