Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Happiness Habit

Years ago my husband told me how discouraged he was that I would frequently talk to him in a way that made him wonder if we were really compatible. He didn't think it was fair, or right, to ask me to change because he was having a difficult time handling the way I responded to stress and reacted with him. He wanted to be able to love me unconditionally. He actually was feeling badly about himself.

I told him I thought what wouldn't be right would be for another love to die. Neither of us made the commitment to marriage with any intention of bailing out (been there, did that, and knew that's not what's suppose to happen to families). I was so glad he would risk telling his concern, it gave me the opportunity to change.

I was in my Clinical Psychology PhD internship at the time, and just happened to be studying neuro-psychology. Brains are "plastic." The ability for the brain to continue to change (for us to change as people) is called neuro-plasticity. It's great news, we aren't "hard set". We may be a bit jelled but not set. Old dogs can learn new tricks.

Sometimes we think "that's just the way I am." Or, "I've always been this way, I guess I'm stuck this way." These beliefs can become self-fulfilling prophecies and very limiting when we don't realize it's just NOT TRUE!

We can change our brains so happiness can become automatic. We can just be happy.

I began to develop a practice around what I was learning, it took me several years and additional training in relational change before I figured out how to make happiness habitual, but I can speak as someone who has it, it's quite lovely and fun.

Sounds great, doesn't it?! So, how in the world can you do?

What needs to happen is work, or exercise, in the part of the brain that manages emotional regulation, relationships and empathy. When this part of our brain is well developed we love and are loved, and we can regulate our emotions. So, happiness becomes a lasting state rather than something we have to work at consciously. Once the habit it created, well, it's a habit. :-)

It's amazing how these three things are linked together, and they are, in life and in our neurobiology. They go hand in hand. Relationships impact empathy and emotional regulation. Emotional regulation impacts empathy and relationships. Happiness impacts relationships and emotional regulation.

To exercise the area of your brain and begin to improve your relationships, empathy and emotional regulation start by doing 20 minutes of focused awareness everyday. As Daniel Siegel would say pay "attention to your intention." If you're doing dishes pay attention to the doing of the dishes. The new age way to say it is "be in the present moment." If you want to develop your brain in this important area faster, do more daily. Think of it as a brain boot camp. We workout to keep, or get, our hearts in shape, why not our heads?

Try it for 30 days, and let me know how you're feeling, if you're noticing any change in your relationships, emotional regulation and empathy; or really, if you're noticing the start of your own happiness habit.

For more intense instruction on improving your relationship, see my free secret video at and get my free CD on the Seven Secrets to Getting Connected, Considered and Cared For.

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