Many mental health professionals have long conceded that while temperament is inborn, personality can change a bit over time. Factors that can influence this susceptibility to change include variables such as family, genetics, environment and circumstances, which all serve to contribute to the shaping of an individual’s unique personality over the course of a lifetime.
One’s environment — which largely is controllable — is a major factor in achieving and sustaining happiness. In Spontaneous Happiness, holistic health pioneer Dr. Andrew Weil shares his secrets to finding happiness based on his own lifelong battle with depression.
Today 1 out of 10 Americans are taking antidepressants, a number that continues to grow. Dr. Weil attributes two possibilities to the rise in depression and the use of prescription medications.
First, some in the medical profession may be too quick to prescribe antidepressant drugs for ordinary states of sadness. Most medications at best aim to manage symptoms, which may wax and wane throughout one’s life, but ultimately do not get to the root of the problem.
Second, today’s typical lifestyle, which includes more time indoors, less exercise and the likelihood of information overload, has altered brain function and made people more prone to anxiety and depression.
According to Dr. Weil, happiness arises spontaneously from within us. You can’t find happiness from an outside source. It’s also unrealistic to expect to be happy all the time. It’s normal to experience both positive and negative emotions.
Based on his philosophy of integrative medicine, which incorporates body, mind and spirit, Dr. Weil developed a four-week plan to finding happiness.
If you are suffering from physician-diagnosed depression, this plan is not to be a substitute for medical care.
- Reduce your caffeine consumption. Caffeine can affect mood and energy cycles and aggravate depression. If you drink coffee or other forms of caffeine, try going cold turkey for two full days to see if you have a withdrawal reaction (such as fatigue or a throbbing headache). If you find that you are dependent, cut it out altogether. Try swapping coffee for oolong tea, which has less caffeine, and diet soda for sparkling water with lemon or lime.
- Cut out artificial foods. Refined, processed and manufactured food promote inflammation, which can lead to chronic disease and impair mood. A diet heavy in carbohydrates may ultimately trigger dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
- Add a mood-boosting supplement.
- Taking fish oil can dramatically improve mood and reduce depression. Take a supplement that provides 600 mg of DHA/EPA omega-3 fatty acids.
- Research shows that low levels of vitamin D correlate with mental disturbances and psychosis, and even mild depression. You may want to have your blood level tested to see if you’re deficient. Take 1000 IU of vitamin D with your largest meal for optimal absorption. Since it is known as the sunshine vitamin, aim to be exposed to as much natural sunlight as possible during the day. 15-20 minutes will also do.
- Research suggests that adequate doses of three B vitamins – folate (or folic acid), B6 and B12 help ward off depression. Choose a multivitamin containing 400mcg of folic acid, 100 mcg of B12 and 1.7 to 2 mg of B6.
- Reestablish social connections. Social connection protects people from depression. Today “artificial” interactions such as social media have become substitutes for face-to-face interactions. Relationships with family and friends are key to maintaining and sustaining happiness. Powerful research shows that forgiveness improves mood, and bonding with others increases levels of endorphins and the powerful bonding hormone oxytocin in our bodies.
- Reduce information overload. Create a bedtime routine each night by powering down or unplugging your electronic devices at least one hour before bed so that your melatonin levels can begin to rise, signaling time for sleep. Try this for one week. It is equally important to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, including weekends.
- Reconnect with nature. Make an effort to get outside and reconnect with nature. It will help you unwind and eliminate distractions. If that is not possible, make sure to step outside during your break. It can be as simple as taking a walk through the park or along a nearby river or sandy shore. Shut off your phone and engage in your surroundings.
The first three weeks of this plan are based on setting the groundwork for strong emotional well-being. If you still feel like you need help, you might try herbal remedies, acupuncture, deep tissue massage, posture adjustment or deep breathing. See your doctor in cases of chronic or severe depression.