Finding Your Happy Place
When my children were young, one of my favorite stories to read was Judith Viorst’s 1972 classic: “Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No-Good Very Bad Day.” I would read it over and over again. It was compelling, yet comforting and it would never get old. Time passes so quickly… I now read the book to my grandkids with the same gusto and resilience that I did then. Alexander, somehow, seems like a very good friend who is always and forever having such a dreaded day!
“Alexander knew it was going to be a terrible day when he woke up with gum in this hair.
And it got worse…
His best friend deserted him. There was no dessert in his lunch bag. And, on top of all that, there were lima beans for dinner and kissing on TV!”
It made me feel less alone to know that other people were having “bad days” and needed to find their “happy place.” Alexander exclaims repeatedly
“I think I’ll move to Australia!”
We all have places in our minds where we can go when we are having one of those “terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad days.” It is often referred to as our HAPPY PLACE. My HAPPY PLACE is where I go when I can no longer grasp the reality of what is going on around me. It is a place of great peace and serenity. Your happy place can be defined as a mental state or a psychologically induced trance where you can remove yourself from a current unpleasant situation.
Are you able to go to your happy place in a moment’s notice? Do you meander to the sandy beach? For some reason, it seems the beach is the number spot for your happy place.
Then there are those who love to cook and have the kitchen as their “happy place.” (Not so much, me!)
I do not want to exclude the all- time favorite personality SpongeBob Square Pants – everywhere and anywhere is a happy place for him! We should all live our life like SpongeBob!
It’s not hard to have Starbucks as your happy place. With its scrumptious smells of bread, coffee, and chocolate as well as its contemporary environment, it is just about everyone’s “happy place.”
According to the February 2012 issue of Men’s Health News magazine article, “Find Your Happy Place”, when researchers sampled jobless men in the Scottish city of Dundee, they found:
“Those who lived in an area with less than 30 percent green space had unhealthy levels of cortisol.” The article further concurs that men should take their laptop out to a park bench or to a green space as the natural environment causes a shift in hormone levels that reduces stress (and reduces cortisol!) and takes you to your happy place.
And then we cannot forget Walt Disney who created his own happy place and called it Disneyland. “To all that come to this happy place: welcome.”
I often “go to my happy place” when I am in pain, be it angina or the dentist’s drill or stubbing my toe… it all has the same outcome.
I was “in my happy place” during an angina attack attempting to stay “in control” (during an EECP session) with a caring and attentive nurse at my side, handing me my nitroglycerin tablets — one after the other… when she reiterated that I needed to go to my “happy place”…
I went to the vast ocean shoreline (I know, I know, it is the number 1 spot! I guess I am just an ordinary person.) There I felt the sand between my toes as the turquoise-colored waves washed up and splashed my legs. The tropical palm trees swayed as the warm, balmy breeze swept across my face and my hair flew back like a flag flapping in the wind. As I was listening to the waves and smelling the ocean air, I opened my eyes as the pain grew in intensity… and she tried to take me back to that “happy place”, instructing me to look at the strong and mighty oak tree…
and I closed my eyes and “POP!” This big old oak tree magically popped up on my tropical, ocean side beach… looked so bizarre, but HEY! It was my place and my nurse gifted it to me. My “happy place” always has one oak tree whenever I go there… and it is ever so special!
Mindfulness, yoga, meditation — they are all part of the heart patient’s itinerary to gain peace and harmony, decrease stress, lower blood pressure. It is not easy for Type A personality individuals to participate in any of these activities though.
The Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine (July 2010 vol. 77), in “Mindfulness, Yoga and Cardiovascular Disease” stated:
“There is increasing evidence that reactions to the stressors of daily life are major contributors to the development and progression of coronary artery disease (CAD). Practices such as yoga and meditation are becoming increasingly popular as means to reduce stress and improve the sense of well-being. There is some evidence that they can beneficially modulate some of the potential pathways linking psychological stress and CAD, such as autonomic nervous system (ANS) activity and stress hormones.”
This research study concluded that the study of mindfulness may lead to a decrease in negative emotions and an increase in well-being in individuals with risk factors for coronary artery disease.
In my pursuit of becoming less stressed, I took a mindfulness class and TRIED REALLY HARD to “become mindful” and “de-stress my brain.” I have to believe much of it is genetic and I am just not wired to practice these things! Although I am pathetic at this practice, I will have to admit I sometimes feel I achieve some positive results.
My initial class was a group presentation by Dr. Amit Sood from Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where he is Director of Research and Practice in the Mayo Complementary and Integrative Medicine department. He is a powerful speaker with a kind and gentle spirit whose energy encourages compassion and the desire to be successful at mindfulness. Dr. Sood authored the book “Train Your Brain….Engage Your Heart….Transform Your Life: A Course in Attention & Interpretation Therapy.” This book presents lessons in training your attention to be in the present, not ruminating about past regrets or future fears. Dr. Sood explains mindfulness as a sort of “heartfulness” where one experiences the present moment with great love. Simple routine activities come to take on a fresh meaning once you learn how “to train your brain.” Dr. Sood’s presentation presented some key insights, not only in the area of mindfulness but also some life lessons that become muddled and buried beneath situations or circumstances that we have no control over. Some of these truths he imparted upon me were:
- “Do not postpone joy waiting for a day when life will be perfect and all your stressors will be gone. Your opportunity to live the best you can is in this very moment.”
- “Most of what stresses you can prompt you toward growth.”
- “Being able to find meaning and something positive amidst adversity is the hallmark of resilience.”
- Mindfulness emphasizes that “every one of us is unique and novel in our own way. We all have our own story. A search for novelty in the ordinary will increase your depth of attention and improve your observation.”
- Dr. Sood’s attention therapy to reduce stress includes the core values of gratitude, compassion, acceptance, meaning and purpose, forgiveness, celebration and reflection/prayer, each are individually practiced on a separate day each week.
While this is hardly even the “tip of the iceberg” of a mindfulness practice, it gives you some insight into better self-care revolving around meditation and building resilience. Dr. Sood offers a workbook of lessons in mindfulness/heartfulness to decrease stress and “train your brain.”
Stress and anxiety can exacerbate pain, often starting a vicious circle of increased intensity and a downward spiral. While relaxation and mindfulness techniques cannot take away the pain, they can help get it under control. They help muscles relax while slowing heart rate and respirations. The mind becomes calm as you focus elsewhere, distracted from pain sensations.
Not all stress or pain is avoidable. We will always have “terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad days.” Learn to cope with it in however your body and your mind best needs to. Do not forget yourself. Some de-stressing recommendations:
- Go to your “happy place” using imagery.
Close your eyes and focus on your breathing.
Breathe slowly and deeply through your nose and hold it for a few seconds, then exhale through your mouth. Breathing oxygenates the blood and calms and relaxes us.
Push the bad thoughts, the pain out of your head and concentrate on your breathing.
Think of your happy place. Focus deeply on your happy place. Indulge all your senses… What are the smells, the sights, the feelings that emerge, and the textures that you feel, the sounds that you hear? Feel your body start to relax. Your senses will allow you to experience an amazing amount of happiness .Keep your thoughts on your happy place as you begin to feel renewed.
- Think positive thoughts.
- Sing a song. (I always make sure no one is around to hear me!) Singing releases tension.
- Walk, walk, walk… exercise is always a great stress reliever.
- Join friends or family for an outing – a lunch or dinner date, a movie; go wherever the spirit leads you.
- Smile – This is one of the simplest ways of transforming your day as well as another person’s.
- Meditate/Pray – This can be as simple as closing your eyes for five minutes and clearing your mind or speaking to the Lord.
- De-clutter and organize. A cluttered home leads to a cluttered mind.
- Volunteer – Helping others or making a difference is of benefit to you as well as others. We are all a part of something bigger than ourselves.
Know that even though even though you may be having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, that this day too shall pass, and tomorrow is a new day with a new start…and it will be fresh and brighter.
A heart-warming side note to this post is that Disney is producing the movie “ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY” … AND it will be coming to theaters on October 10, 2014.
I would love to know – Where is YOUR happy place? I always find it thought-provoking where people “go” to achieve that perfect harmony within. I am looking forward to hearing where YOUR happy place is… with the thought of joining you there the next time I need to “go to my happy place.”