Choose to Be Happy
Good feelings can act as a biological shield—helping you to live a longer life. Here’s how to rid yourself of negative emotions and enjoy life more fully.
Let It Out
A nine-year study of 2,500 men showed that those who bottled up their anger were up to 75 per cent more likely to develop coronary artery disease than those who vented their frustration. The next time you’re angry, find a friend and let off some steam (but don’t create an enemy).
Count to 10
When you count, your brain activity shifts to the frontal cortex, the area
of rational thought—and away from the emotionally charged limbic system where there’s little control over emotions. That’s why you feel more able to cope after counting. You can increase the effectiveness by breathing deeply at the same time.
This simple advice is not as trite as it seems: studies show that feelings of love actually make your heart beat more smoothly and regularly. And conversely, one British study in the late 1980s showed that an unhappy love life increased the risk of heart disease in women. Try doing something each day that makes you feel a warm, loving glow. Choose some happy photos of your children, download them onto your computer and use them as a screensaver or click on them when you need a smile. Give your partner lots of hugs. Listen to some love songs.
Give the Benefit of the Doubt
As soon as you start feeling cross with a shop assistant, for example, stop and take a mental step back. Is the shop’s ridiculous refund policy really the cashier’s fault? Is it fair to expect a schoolboy doing a summer job at the grocery store to know where the pesto sauce is kept? Lashing out rarely results in getting what you want, and it’s often unfair. Worse still, it transfers your anger to a second person. Feeling empathy calms anger quickly (and often gets better results).
Don’t Try and Do It All
Anger, frustration and impatience peak when we try to do too many things at once. Look at your list of things to do each day and cross out the least important. This will help you to get into the habit of focusing on what’s most important, and stop worrying about the trivial stuff.
One study showed that men with coronary artery disease who were prepared to forgive and forget had improved blood flow to their hearts. Harbouring a grudge increases adrenalin levels while destroying the feel-good hormone serotonin. Forgiveness releases bottled-up anger and creates a healthier hormone balance.
That does not mean excusing bad behaviour. It means that you decide not to let that incident or person have control over your life or power to hurt you. It may take time but just by trying to do it, you’re halfway there. Try choosing one event you’re still upset about and make a decision to let it go.
Forgive Yourself, Too
We are often our own harshest critics. While you’re trying hard to forgive others, remember to go easy on yourself as well. You know you can’t change the past, but you can improve the present—and that means being kind to yourself.
When was the last time you had fun? If no recent events spring to mind, it’s time to write some fun into your calendar. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, just something you look forward to. Once a week, organize a game of golf, rent a comedy film or take your children or grandchildren to the park. You’ll feel less bogged down in daily life if you reward yourself regularly with fun times.
Give and Take Control
We can’t control world events, corporate downsizings, bad weather or the stupid behaviour of other people but many of us take such happenings personally. Learn to let them go without anger or guilt. Put things that are out of your control in the hands of a “higher power,” whether that means fate or your God, then take control of what you can. You can’t make rude people polite, for example, but you can choose to avoid them in future.