Your Quick Guide to Personal Happiness - 5 Happiness Habits

By Emma Suttie D.Ac, AP

For many years I have been fascinated by the concept of happiness. Part of my fascination was personal, and the other was professional. I was seeing so many patients who were deeply unhappy and the interesting thing to me was that when I asked them what would make them happy, most of them had no idea. For many, it seemed to be the first time they had given the idea any thought at all. So, what is happiness? And why is it so elusive?

What is Happiness?

For something that we all seem to be after, happiness seems to be largely misunderstood and pretty difficult to come by for a lot of people. And when it comes to a definition of happiness, well I imagine that would be very different depending on who you asked. For our purposes, I will define it as a general feeling of well-being and joy about the totality of your life - not necessarily the details as those will be constantly fluctuating, but a general sense of wellbeing about your existence. If I were to ask you what would it take for you to be happy? Maybe a better question is - what does your life look like where you imagine your happiest self? This is an interesting intellectual exercise for sure, and one I often ask my patients to do to help them clarify what this scenario would look like for them.

In my experience, I see what happiness isn't. It is not something that can be acquired, some kind of external thing that one must chase after and get a hold of, never letting go. External things don't give you happiness, at least not a happiness that is grounded, meaningful and lasting. The way to happiness is within. And I think this is one of the reasons that we as a species, are largely so unhappy right now. We are taught, from a very young age, to seek everything we need in our lives - "out there". All the things we need to be complete, happy beings are out there in the external world. Good education, a better job, good relationship, nice house, fancy car - and so forth. These seem to be the benchmarks for success and happiness for many of us. But this is changing. There is a movement of young people growing up now who realize that those things often have nothing to do with true happiness and are seeking happiness, fulfillment, and connectedness within. And that is where we will all find it. There has been an explosion of interest in things like yoga, meditation, ayahuasca, etc... to more deeply understand ourselves and our world.

The Chinese Medicine Angle

In Chinese medicine, our ability to feel joy is seen to be an expression of our heart energies. But joy is only one part of overall happiness. In Chinese medicine, how you feel is an important part of your health. Each of the organs has an emotion associated with it to help determine which organ (or emotion) might be out of balance at any one time. If you are overwhelmed by anger and frustration, the liver is the culprit, if sadness is predominant then the lungs are to blame, or if fear and anxieties are making life uncomfortable then we must look at the kidneys for their role in these feelings. I believe that for a feeling of overall happiness and wellbeing that so many of us are striving for is to be achieved, it is balance that we must seek. And there is no better system to teach us to balance ourselves, our bodies, our emotions and our spirits, than Chinese medicine.

The emotions are a more ephemeral and therefore often more difficult thing to contend with, especially in our society with its emphasis on the physical and tangible especially when it comes to health and healing. Because of this, tools we can use to help us manage difficult emotional states or patterns are difficult to come by. Thankfully, Chinese medicine offers many ways in which we can both identify as well as manage and resolve our emotional hardships. Each organ's energies are at their peak in a specific season, so taking care of both the organ, its corresponding emotion and changing our behaviours depending on the time of year are some of the ways we can help to keep ourselves balanced. Changing the foods that we eat according to the seasons and our physical predispositions is another good way to stay in harmony, as well as some basic things like listening to our bodies - as they tend to tell us in subtle ways when something is wrong - taking care of ourselves on all levels, being kind, loving and nurturing to ourselves and others and working on self-awareness is especially important when it comes to dealing with emotions. So much of our demons and the things that hurt us are unknown to us. If we are really willing to do the work to discover our hurts and sorrows, that is the first step in shining a light on them and being able to process them and letting them go.

5 Happiness Habits

Below are some of the most powerful habits that, if you incorporate them into your life, will help you to have a happier experience and feel more joyful overall.

Gratitude

Photo by Nicole Honeywill on Unsplash

Some interesting studies have taught us that so much of our ability to feel happiness is in our attitude. Many highly spiritual beings know this too. One way that we can really help to change our attitudes so that we may attract more positivity into our lives is by being grateful. Taking some time every day to focus on the things that you are grateful for, no matter how big or small, will help to literally rewire your brain, making it easier to think about and feel those feelings of gratitude in the future. A helpful exercise that will help you to literally rewire your brain (plasticity) is to take time every day to think of three things that you are grateful for. In doing this, your brain starts to retain the pattern of scanning the world not for negative things, but positive ones, helping to keep you in a state of positivity.

Positivity


Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Scientific studies have shown that the brain works better when we are in a state of positivity giving us a happiness advantage. Here are some statistics from Shawn Achor's TED talk (which is embedded below):

  • When we are in a positive state the brain performs better in terms of intelligence, creativity and our energy increases
  • Positive brains are 31% more productive than brains that are negative, neutral or stressed
  • When we are positive, our brains are 37% better at sales
  • When in a positive state, doctors are 31% faster and more accurate at coming up with correct diagnosis

An activity to help you to become more positive is to journal about one positive thing that happened to you (or that you witnessed) that day. Writing about the experience allows your brain to relive it, and releases powerful hormones like dopamine, which not only makes us feel good, but also turns on all the learning centres in the brain.

Conscious Acts of Kindness

Another exercise that you can work into your daily routine is to reach out to one person in your social network and tell them that you appreciate them and why. This only compounds the exercise above and will help not only you to feel grateful, but also spread the goodness around by making the person or people you reach out to feel grateful as well.

Meditation

Meditation has so many benefits to our health and wellbeing, that it is something I would recommend for absolutely everyone, especially living in our hectic culture. Meditation allows us to slow down, relax and reconnect with ourselves in a way that many of us have forgotten. Giving that time to yourself as a way to pull yourself out of the chaos that often predominates modern life and to just sit and listen has so many positive effects that will not only make you feel better, they will ripple out into every aspect of your life and ultimately benefit not only you, but the people around you.

Self Awareness

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

From the years of treating patients, one of the things that I really believe is a huge contributor to our physical health as well as our mental health is dealing with our demons. I use the word demons, because that is what they can become, haunting us and making us miserable. Everyone has difficult, painful and traumatic experiences in their lives. But the way to have a happy life I believe is not to wish for an easy existence, but to learn how to handle difficulties when they arise so that they can be processed appropriately and let go so that they do not become demons from our past that haunt us in our present.

This ability to really look at ourselves and self reflect is not easy, and this important work is not something that is taught to us as children in schools, so finding a way to work through these difficult experiences can be daunting. The tools that will work will not be the same for everyone, but this is some of the most important work we can do in our lives and the work that will help us to be happier beings and enjoy our time on this beautiful planet.

 

Sources

This excellent (and hilarious) video from Shawn Achor speaking at TED about happiness and our brains.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXy__kBVq1M

 


10 Ways Chinese Medicine Changed My Life

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

I feel very fortunate that I discovered Chinese medicine early in my life. Well, early-ish. I was 15 and had been suffering with terrible cramps for a couple of years and was unable to find anything that could help me other than drugs or the prospect of surgery that might have left me unable to have children. Going to that first appointment was a profound experience and, although I didn't realize it at the time, started me on a journey that would last me the rest of my life. Chinese medicine has improved my life in so many ways, it was like poking a hole in my consciousness that has been stretched out and gotten ever bigger the deeper into the medicine that I get. And that's just it, it is not just a medicine, but a way of life, and my goal with Chinese Medicine Living is to share that ancient wisdom with you, so you can learn to live it too. Below are some of the ways that Chinese medicine has changed my life.

1. Looking at Things Holistically

One of the most wonderful things about Chinese medicine is the way it looks at things holistically. In Western medicine there is a trend towards specializations, breaking the body into smaller and smaller parts, but the very core of Chinese medicine is to see not only the body as a whole and complete unit, but all aspects of a human being as pertinent to health and wellbeing. Our culture is very aligned with this Western view, so one thing I am very grateful to Chinese medicine for, is this new (or old, it is very very old) perspective. I find that it has bled into the rest of my life, and I am always trying to look at the big picture, step back and look at any situation in a complete way, rather than focussing on specific details which has been of great benefit to me in all aspects of my life.

2. Creating Empathy

One of the biggest things that I have learned since I started practicing, and something that I wasn't expecting, is that I have a new appreciation of how much pain and suffering people go through on a daily basis. Because of the in depth process of the initial consultation that I have with patients, I learn about all the things that are going on in their lives. I have been really humbled to learn the kinds of difficult things that so many people are dealing with every day. A lot of these things never get discussed, and they can and often do lead to illnesses. I noticed that this new awareness allowed me to have a new kind of empathy when I was taking a crowded subway to work and someone slammed the door in my face, or didn't smile or say thank you when someone opened a door for them. I realized that we have no idea the kinds of difficult things people are dealing with in their lives, and I try to remember this when someone is rude or unpleasant out in the world, which helps me treat them with more kindness and compassion.

3. Helping Me to Heal Myself

I think it is pretty common that people get into a profession like the healing arts and go through the sometimes difficult process of having to heal themselves. This was definitely the case for me, but was also part of what fascinated me about Chinese medicine. In school you begin to learn how multi-dimensional it really is, and that you could literally practice and study it for the rest of your life and never know it all. For me, this is the appeal. I love that it is something that I can practice and be constantly learning forever.

We all acquire wounds through experiences we have in our lives. It is impossible to avoid, and those wounds are often difficult to recognize and even more difficult to resolve. Learning Chinese medicine with its many tools helped me to heal a lot of my own broken places and gave me ability to apply what I was learning practically to my life - a skill which I could later bring to my patients. The ability of Chinese medicine to heal on a variety of different levels is to me, part of the reason why it has consistently been able, for thousands of years, to heal such a wide range of conditions with such effectiveness.

4. Realizing Sensitivity is a Gift

I have written about this one in detail previously in the post called - How my curse became my gift, but this was a big one for me. I was an extremely sensitive child, and, until I discovered Chinese medicine I was taught that that sensitivity was a weakness and something I should work hard to overcome. When I was in school studying Chinese medicine and acupuncture I slowly began to realize that this sensitivity I had, this "curse" was actually helping me connect, diagnose and treat patients. I could feel what was wrong with someone without them saying a word, and could read subtle cues and create connections that others missed. The realization that something I had been taught was a weakness and an undesirable trait was allowing me to be a better healer and help more people to feel better was an incredibly healing experience (see number 3 above), and helped to heal a wound that I had had ever since I could remember. It also made space for self acceptance and some self love which I am sure we could all use a little more of.

5. Reverence for Tradition & the Past

One of the things that I think we have lost as a culture, is our respect for the ancient wisdom of times past. Chinese medicine is a system that has been around for almost 5000 years. There is an enormous amount of information that has been gathered, documented and applied in those thousands of years. Much of that information is still in use today and is still being used to treat modern diseases with impressive efficacy. In the present, we tend to revere technology and all the ways that it can help make our lives easier. In many ways technology does make life easier, but at what cost? We are living with more people and closer together than at any time in history, and yet, despite our technology, we are so alone. Many people think that the old ways are simple, out of date and not useful but I think that the pendulum has swung so far the other way that our reliance on technology is hurting us in some ways. I believe that there is a need to get back to that "simpler" way of life. Where family, your tribe, and nature were the most important things in your life, and it was about the "we" instead of the "I". Chinese medicine teaches many of these principles as they are ways that a person and a community can stay healthy and balanced which is good for the people and the planet.

6. Looking to Nature for Healing

One of the things I love about Chinese medicine (and yes, there are so many things I love about Chinese medicine), is that it was developed out of a complete reverence and respect for nature. Nature is integral to the medicine because human beings are designed to live in harmony with it. In my opinion, it has been the disconnect between people and their natural environment that has lead to the drastic rise in the incidents of disease in our population. Chinese medicine also teaches that the earth with all her wisdom and gifts such as plants and animals offers the remedies to all of the ailments that afflict human beings. Eating our medicine, living in harmony with our environment and with the seasons and using herbs are only a few of the ways in which Chinese medicine relies on nature to help to heal us. In a culture that has tried to dominate and control nature, the ancient Chinese understood that it is only when we live in harmony with nature that we can thrive and live our lives to their fullest potential.

7. Using Food as Medicine

Using food as medicine is one of the fundamental principles of Chinese medicine. And, in a perfect world, we would be able to get everything we need for optimum health and longevity from the foods we eat. Thousands of years ago, there was no need for synthetic medications, people ate their medicine. There was also a common knowledge of what the healing properties of the foods that grew locally were so that they could be chosen according to any presenting illness. This is built into Chinese medicine and is one of the ways that a practitioner helps to advise their patient. Nutritional therapy is part of most treatment plans, as food is something we all need every day, and everything we eat has healing properties that can help both prevent and fight disease.

The foods we eat have enormous healing energies and eating for me has always been one of my favourite things, but it now helps me to stay healthy so I don't get sick. I see food in a completely different way, not just a feast for my taste buds, but a delicious type of healing that I do for myself every time I put something in my mouth. Also, it is not just the food itself that is healing, it is also the way it is prepared, the more love and good intention you put into it, the more healing (and more delicious) it is for whomever is eating it. :)

8. Improving My People Skills

This was an unexpected benefit of practicing Chinese medicine. I remember the day that, while I was still in school, it was announced that we would begin student clinic where we had to do all the hours necessary to graduate. This immediately set of a chain reaction that started with the realization that I would have to start putting what I was learning into practice, but more importantly, I would have to be talking to PEOPLE. I was terrified. I have always been a shy person and struggled with my ability to speak with people, especially ones I didn't know. And now, speaking with people I didn't know was going to be my profession. Wow. It was going to be quite an education. Those first few months of student clinic were tough, but as I did it more and more I found that my ability to connect with people beyond words was the way I was able to retrieve the most important and useful information about their condition, and observing the way they spoke, moved and looked was just as important as the words coming out of their mouths. I began to create a balance and a way to take in information about a person while we were speaking in their treatment. This was a huge learning curve for me, and once I got over the shyness, I came to really enjoy working with people which definitely helped me outside of my practice and made it easier to connect and speak to people outside of work. I am now able to speak quite comfortably with people I don't know because of the skills I developed practicing Chinese medicine.

9. Prevention is the Best Medicine

In the West, and I have seen this over and over again in my practice, people tend to wait until they get sick before they seek out help to try to get well. In some cases, people wait until things are catastrophic to get medical help, at which point it is always more difficult to fix the problem. Chinese medicine, at its foundation is a medicine of prevention. This is not to say that it is not capable of treating illness and disease because it most certainly is. But, the way that it has been designed is as a preventative medicine. It is a way of life that is conducive to health with the objective of never getting sick. I have tried my best to institute it's principles into my life so that I do many small things every day to keep myself healthy rather than not paying attention to my health and waiting until I get sick to attempt to get better. My medicine is my way of life. It is the way I conduct myself in the world, the way I treat others, the food I eat, the emotions I process, my state of mind and my attitude - all of which have a bearing on my overall health and wellbeing. And I learned this from Chinese medicine.

10. Loving My Work

One of the ways that I think I am very lucky is that I love what I do. Deeply. I know that many people get up every day and go to a job that they do not love. I get to go to work and do what I love, which feeds me physically, emotionally and spiritually. It is an incredibly rewarding profession and something I love more and more every day. I feel honoured that I get to spend my days in service to my fellow human beings, and that I can in some small way help them to feel better, one person at a time.

Love Your Work : Chinese Medicine Living

10 Ways Chinese Medicine Changed My Life : Chinese Medicine Living

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The beautiful featured image photo by Davide Cantelli on Unsplash

Would you like to learn more about Chinese Medicine and why it is so awesome? See our sister site Learn Chinese Medicine Living for downloadable info sheets and other resources to help you learn about this wonderful medicine. <3