Harvesting Rainbows

How will you know that you are happy?

Your perception about whether you are thriving in life or just surviving seems to be more about how you feel than the actual evidence of a good life.

Over the years I’ve had some wealthy clients who really do seem to have it all. They can go anywhere, do anything at any time, can buy what they want and have what they want and yet there’s still an emotional hole. One such client told me he felt cheated of the emotional payoff.

He’d believed in the idea that when you worked hard for the career, got the house, the cars, found the partner and acquired the freedom to choose, you will wake up one day, happy ever after. He had spent 15 years “going through hell” in relentless pursuit of all the trappings that would assuredly deliver the endless happiness only to find that the treasure box was empty.

Most of us know deep down that these things are fool’s gold and yet we still have an urge to pursue ‘that thing’ that will ultimately ‘turn on’ the happiness we’ve been waiting for. Do we expect that once we have ‘it’, we can keep it on the shelf and dip into it anytime we wish (as with our other possessions)? Is this the human programming of the age of acquisition?

We’ve all spent a lifetime on the receiving end of the slick marketing that (ultimately) promises happiness so is it any wonder that we are so entranced by the idea that all the good feelings we could ever want to feel are neatly wrapped in one product or another? Yet the joy of acquirement is often short lived. How often have you indulged in a spot of ‘retail therapy’ only to find that the thing you bought is still sitting in its bag weeks later?

So, what is this happiness thing; this Holy Grail that has now become the subject of so many books and workshops and self-help merchandise? As many of us wake up to the truth that ‘stuff’ doesn’t automatically make you happy, it seems that happiness itself is being pedalled as the product.

If you can’t really buy lasting happiness how is that state of ultimate contentment reached? How do we make our way to the emotional stronghold wherein we find ourselves heartily able to go through life’s up and downs without becoming overwhelmed by anxiety, depression, excessive stress or any of the other modern plagues that therapists like me are working with on a daily basis?

It is now a generally accepted principle in psychology that in order for a person to truly flourish, they must be getting a number of important physical and emotional needs met.

The experience of happiness is a bit like a rainbow. The rainbow only exists because of the colours. Happiness is made up of the colours of other important emotional experiences like satisfaction, fulfilment, connection, autonomy, competence, acceptance and respect, clarity, feeling purposeful, engaged and free, to name a few. Enduring happiness is the reward of those experiences and for the most part, the colours of those emotions must be earned not bought, in order to be truly fulfilling.

Basically, your emotions are a simple guidance system. When the body-mind organism sends you emotions or feelings that are considered negative, it is trying to tell you that you are not getting your needs met in some important area. When you get a positive emotional response to an action or an event, you are being encouraged by your ‘self’. (So that I don’t digress, if you want to know more about this click the link at the bottom of this article).

So why didn’t my hard-working wealthy client get the happiness reward that he worked for? Possibly because he spent the whole 15 years dragging himself through every day, resenting the effort he was making. The experience was not satisfying or fulfilling and when you spend 15 years programming your emotions for negativity, the happiness wiring is likely to wither.
So, happiness is cultivated by stretching yourself and by getting your emotional needs met.
• What do you do with the good feelings when you get them?
• How can you hold onto them?
• How can you learn to turn them on when you need them?
The answer to the first question is that for the most part, we are likely to take good feelings for granted. Why would we do that?! In his book Hardwiring Happiness, neuropsychologist Rick Hanson explains that we have evolved with a drive to get our basic needs met (shelter, food & sex) and also to stay away from pain (injury & death). Both drives are important but there’s a vital difference. Avoiding pain or death is more urgent than eating. “Consequently the brain evolved a built in negativity bias…. Your brain has hair-trigger readiness to go negative to help you survive.” The brain doesn’t need to pay so much attention to good feelings because they indicate that you are safe and getting your needs met. Negative feelings are much more important and, as we have seen with the news obsession over recent events across the pond, fear grabs the attention more than hope. Wounds and deficits dictate the terms of your life, not the pleasures and the victories.

No wonder happiness is so elusive! But wait, all is not lost…. We have the missing ingredient! There is a way to hardwire your brain for the real gold of positive emotional experience and to learn to ‘turn it on’ more easily
The simple answer is that you need to actively, purposely and consciously engage your intention and your attention on good things when they happen. This is exactly what you do when you are learning anything; you consciously absorb and commit to memory (so you know that you can do it!). Which brings me back to my opening question – how will you notice that you are feeling happy?

One of the excellent things about being human is that we have a conscious mind. The new science of well-being uses the principles of neuroscience to help us to learn the art of cultivating and harvesting happiness. When you understand the simplest hardwiring of the brain then you can see the map. In the words of Canadian neuropsychologist Donald Hebb “neurons that fire together wire together”.

We already know that your body-mind has a drive to hardwire the negative emotional experiences without you having to consciously do that. You’ll know when an experience or an emotion is being wired because you will feel as though you are stuck in it and it’s hard not to focus on it.

Now, supposing you were to develop the practice of hardwiring any or all of your positive experiences by locking them into an attentive focus for a while. What difference would it make to your life if you became good at mindfully programming your emotional experiences? More on this in future messages but in the meantime, if you can’t wait to find out more, I recommend the books listed below – and you can also find their authors on TED talks.

This is just a start and is addressing current experience. Some people have unhelpful past or future focus that can also be helped in this way, though it’s best to start at the beginning when you are learning a new skill.
Hypnosis or trance is a great resource for helping you to become more readily wired for joy.

The Tyranny of Anxiety

Don’t Believe Everything You Think….

We all have the ability to become anxious from time to time– it’s a natural human response and is part of our survival mechanism. Without the ability to feel anxious we wouldn’t be able to sense potential threats and take the actions to keep us safe. You’ve probably heard of the fight or flight response.  Anxiety also acts as an inbuilt safety mechanism that prevents us from taking unnecessary risks.

As with any of our negative feelings or emotions they are uncomfortable on purpose because they are designed to make you want to take action so that the emotions can reset back to normal settings and you can feel better. If you were in danger and your body sent you a sensation of bliss or contentment, you wouldn’t feel the urgency to change the situation. Anxiety is a very unpleasant feeling intended to make you want it to go away, therefore it arouses a spontaneous action, like running away, hiding or fighting. So, anxiety is useful when faced with a real external threat.

Unfortunately it becomes less useful and even disabling when the threat is less real and is happening internally; in other words, when the anxiety is being generated within as a result of the way that a person is using their imaginative attention and their internal dialogue. This is a situation that creates genuine suffering and perceptual distortions that only serve to increase the anxiety. This type of psychological anxiety may well have started as a response to something really happening in the person’s life, like bullying, rejection or abuse. However anxiety can quickly become emotionally habitual through no fault of the sufferer. This is because the emotional brain is always on guard for danger.

Now, you may think that if the person is generating the feelings themselves, they should be able to switch them off. Those of you who have ever experienced ongoing high anxiety will know just how difficult this is. Here’s why – anxiety is part of your survival response so it has to have power over you so that you can instantaneously launch your survival response without having to think about it. Nature wouldn’t risk the possibility of you being able to over-ride this emotional warning bell. Even though your intelligent brain is tell you that there is no danger, the emotion of anxiety is far more convincing and captivating. Anxiety holds its victims in a trance.

Now, if that’s not bad enough, here’s where it can get worse. Anyone who is experiencing ongoing anxiety will be doing all that they can to stop it. Since it is not easy to do that without knowing how, the feelings persist despite all efforts and the person begins to feel helpless. The more they feel helpless, the more they become helpless.

If left untreated, anxiety has a cumulative effect over time as the stress hormones in the body remain constant. This undermines physical health and can lead to more debilitating conditions such as OCD or Panic Attacks. When someone is experiencing anxiety in an intrusive or inappropriate way, it is time to seek help.

The problem with ongoing anxiety or depression is that the person who is suffering can become less likely to seek help. The very thought of speaking to someone will raise anxiety. People with anxiety find that they are living with a constant sense of unease and uncertainty and these feelings result in an inability to live life to the full because they only feel safe when they stay with what they know. The danger is that when anxiety is what they know, they become caught in a trap.

If you or someone you care about is suffering from anxiety there are many ways to get relief without using pharmaceuticals.

Deep breathing. The reason this helps is that the body only breathes in this way when it is safe. Take a deep breath through the nose and release the breath slowly for as long as you can. Each time you breathe out, relax a part of your body (shoulders, arms, tummy etc.) Do this at various intervals during the day, even when you are feeling calm. It will help to maintain lower levels of stress hormones.

Go out, even if you don’t feel like it. It’s better to take 5 minutes just walking round the block than to stay inside. When you are outside, practice turning your attention to the environment. Many anxious people find that even when they do go out they don’t remember much about it. This is because they are stuck inside their minds – just like when they are at home. Make a conscious attempt to notice what is going on around you.

Don’t own the anxiety! “I am anxious” “I have anxiety”. You are not that anxiety, it is passing through your experience. Be prepared to let it go.

Do whatever you can to switch off the voice of anxiety by occupying yourself in whatever way you can. Anxiety is helpless, feels like a victim, thinks it’s not fair, can’t see the point, feels like this ‘is typical of me’, beats up on the victim by telling them bad things about themselves (even though most of them are not true) and takes things very personally.

Don’t neglect nutrition. You don’t have to be a super-chef, just do what you can to eat real fresh food. Just as importantly, avoid the stuff that triggers the adrenal response (making anxiety worse), like sugar and caffeine.

Drink water.

Spend time with people.

Try to avoid too much TV or Facebook. These things are good in small doses but they are trance-inducing, which is the perfect environment for anxiety.

If you’ve been doing these things and nothing seems to be reducing the anxiety, or if you feel that the above list is pointless or too overwhelming, seek professional help.

The good news is that you don’t have to live with anxiety any longer. Hypnotherapy can make a difference to your symptoms straight away, by safely and comfortably reducing the anxious feelings and by teaching you strategies to achieve lasting change.

Imagine how it would be to get your life back; to be calmer or more relaxed. What difference will it make to your life when that anxiety is a thing of the past?

You can call and talk to me about how therapy can help you to overcome anxiety before you make an appointment, I will be happy to tell you more about what to expect – 01273 500136


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