The above title has got to be my most frequently uttered southern catchphrase of all when doing therapy (a close second is probably “your relationship picker is broken,” and/or “that’s crazier than a box of frogs”). While I tend to shy against anything that appears remotely close to Dr. Phil, I do believe that, at times, the southerners have the best way of cutting right to the chase without all those “25 cent words,” to muddy things up.
The title of this blog hits right at the core of why someone would choose therapy in the first place. At some point, the individual realizes, “If I keep doing what I’ve always done, I’m going to keep getting what I’ve always got.” The therapist, then, is utilized as a neutral party, or sometimes a catalyst to initiate change in the person’s life.
The “L” in my B.A.L.A.N.C.E model stands for learning. Learning, in this sense, is meant to represent the novelty or challenge in our lives that have been proven through research to be responsible for increased feelings of well-being, contentment, and well- happiness.
The literature on happiness shows us that by engaging in new activities, we utilize structures in the left hemisphere of our brain (recall that the structures associated with happiness also reside in the left hemisphere), while engaging in the same routine every day and not doing anything new, we continuously call on our right hemisphere (associated with structures found to be responsible for depression, negative thinking, and hopeless assumptions about the future)….or in other words- you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep on getting what you’ve always got- depression, anxiety, and feelings of “is this all there is?”
Novelty and challenge can be implemented in a multitude of forms. My therapy can often encompass challenging someone to learn a new subject and teach me about it, join a new group, or sometimes- I simply request that the patient takes a different route to work that week.
The irony of depression is that one’s mind intuitively tells them “if you just lay low you will start to feel better, don’t try and push yourself too hard.” This idea works when one is physically sick with the flu, but the flu of the mind requires a different antidote. In order to escape the chains of depression, one must do what feels the least do able- getting outside of what feels comfortable.
Even for those who don’t suffer with depression, challenge and novelty are the medicines of the spirit. They can be the difference in transforming a life starting to feel like Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day into a reinvigorated and energetic way of being.
One of my favorite things to do is travel. Traveling is also a favorite thing to do among a majority of my clients. It is one of the easiest ways we tap into our left hemisphere and shake up our whole way of living. A Monday morning no longer consists of conference calls and coffee breaks, but exploring uncharted territory and forgetting about clocks.
On a recent trip to Tokyo, I was immediately transformed. Thousands of miles away from me, people were living completely different and completely similar lives to me. They were eating fish for breakfast, but still had a McDonald’s at every corner. They were meditating for hours, but still were immersed in their own cultural soup of pop stars and fashionistas.
Tokyo boasts around a 12 million person population in contrast to New York City’s 8 million. Although it was a densely populated metropolis- I had never witnessed cleaner streets, or kinder people. The culture seemed to share a deep affection for children and all things that represented youth. Their faces displayed a curiosity and a simultaneous warm acceptance of tourists.
When I arrived back in the states, I felt an energetic charge. How could life ever be sad and monotonous when there is so much to do? Albeit a trip to Tokyo is a luxury most people can only accommodate a few times in their life (or maybe even once) – a trip like that reinvigorates the mind and the soul. It fills one with the sense that there is so much more to life. Suddenly, free time is looked at as an opportunity to plan more trips, read more about other cultures, and suck all the juice out of this sweet berry we call life (ok maybe a bit too far with the analogies).
At the same time, I appreciate how impossible this can seem to the depressed mind. People might be reading this and saying, “Yeah great for you, meanwhile I’m doing well to just get my kids their bath, homework finished, and supper in their bellies before the next day repeats.” However, there is much that can be done to incite happiness back home.
The idea of this blog is that happiness is not a golden ring to be grasped at the end of a long life of career success and material possessions. It is not even a prize to be had after one finds true love and achieves what they believe to be – the American dream. Happiness is a muscle that must be exercised every day in order to reap its benefits, and part of that exercise is seeking novelty and challenge in every day life.
Aristotle once said “ Happiness is the meaning and purpose of life. The whole aim and end of human existence.” I tend to agree, and after spending years working with thousands of individuals, I believe it’s a universally human need to find happiness (although we all tend to start off going about it our different ways). So if happiness is the purpose, we no longer have an excuse not to begin exercising our happiness muscles today. How can you begin to be different? What have you always wanted to do but never had enough time? What are you saving at the end of your to-do list?
Dr. Colleen Long is the author of “Happiness in B.A.L.A.N.C.E,” and practices in the Los Angeles area under the supervision of Dr. Richard Oelberger (PSY22186) . Dr. Long works mainly from a positive psychology framework as it applies to addiction, depression, relationships, body image and weight loss. Her website can be found at www.DrColleenLong.com. All public speaking/media event requests handled through FreudTV (info@FreudTV.com).