Beyond "Positive Thinking' - Exploring the science of happiness

You won't find me subscribing to the theory that if you just think optimistically and say positive affirmations in the mirror your life will be all roses. Granted, much of my personal philosophy around happiness is based on our choice of thoughts being a huge piece of that puzzle. However anyone struggling with anxiety, depression or other mental illness can vouch for the fact that there's nothing more frustrating than someone telling you to just "chin up" and "think positive." It's far too simplistic to assume that thoughts alone can entirely account for our emotional state, yet in my personal experience un-resourceful thinking and disempowering beliefs do contribute significantly.

Let's look at some other important factors that need to be considered when exploring the science of happiness.

In my personal experience I've observed how anything from hormones, chemicals, vitamin deficiencies, gut health, DNA, neurotransmitter levels, certain genetic mutations, food intolerances and a whole host of other biological considerations too various to mention can affect my mood. There have been some moments where I felt like my body had been emotionally hijacked and no amount of positive thinking, re-framing or uplifting could do the trick. And do you know what? I'm glad I have experienced those moments because it strengthens my ability to empathise with others, to understand that it's never simple and that sometimes our neurology, biology or chemistry can be the culprits.

You might be very surprised to learn that food, digestion and in particular your gut microbes play a significant part in your emotional state. Just google "gut health emotions" or " the brain-gut connection" and you will find a plethora of information to devour on the topic. Based on some pattern recognition and food & health journalling I've been prompted to make several tweaks to my lifestyle, adopt a rigorous supplementation protocol and take various meds at various times in my life to level out my emotional fluctuations. It's a delicate balance and whilst I haven't quite found a way to exude happiness out of my pores just yet, I have been able to achieve a state of mind and mood that is conducive to the process of accessing a state of happiness. In doing so, I've learned how to get my body functioning at a level that gives me energy and vitality and I've learned that unless my body is fuelled well and given what it needs, all the positive thinking in the world won't do me much good.

What I have noticed is that once I get the system in balance I then have access to a state of mind that is more conducive to making better thinking choices. It's a space where my mind isn't racing, where my cognition isn't foggy from nutrient deficiency, my memory is sharper, my anxiety is lessened and it's a space where I feel that I have a degree of choice over how I feel. From this space I then find myself able to access and choose better thoughts and adopt more resourceful beliefs.

So, in essence I think what I'm trying to say is that I've discovered that it is a system. A mind/body system that works in unison and is interconnected and interdependent and so positive thinking is only the tip of the iceberg.

I like the idea of functional, personalised medicine because it enables people to look at what their specific body and mind need in order to function optimally. It's taken me a long time to work out what my system needs and I don't always tend to it properly, but when I do I feel that I am better able to direct my thoughts and choose how I feel about the world around me.

Once I worked on getting the basic system/machine right I then got to work on managing the mindset. In the process I discovered Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Neuro Linguistic Programming and a lot of other psychotherapeutic tools which can assist in developing a resourceful mindset. Each day I apply principles of these techniques when observing my own thinking and I'm noticing significant improvements in my experience of life. (Notice what I said there? I didn't say my life is better. I said my experience of life is better.) We can't always choose the conditions and circumstances around us but we can choose our response, and this is where our power to feel better exists:

"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom." Viktor E. Frankl

  • Do you know what your body needs in order to optimally function? When do you feel energetic, clear-headed and alive?

  • What makes you feel foggy, lethargic and drops your mood?

  • What thoughts make you feel good?

  • What thoughts make you feel anxious?