During my study of happiness, I’ve noticed that I often learn more from one person’s highly idiosyncratic experiences than I do from sources that detail universal principles or cite up-to-date studies. There’s something peculiarly compelling and instructive about hearing other people’s happiness stories. I’m much more likely to be convinced to try a piece of advice urged by a specific person who tells me that it worked for him, than by any other kind of argument.
Today’s interview is with Karen Salmansohn, the best-selling author who writes and speaks extensively about the subject of happiness—especially as related to career and relationships (which covers a lot of happiness territory!). She also has a terrific blog.
She has a very intriguing new book, The Bounce Back Book. Like all her books, it’s got a fabulous design and engaging graphic elements; this one boasts an appropriately “bouncy” red rubber cover. It hits on a topic that has been generating a lot of discussion lately—how and why people can show resilience in the face of adversity, setbacks, and loss.
Gretchen: What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
Karen: A few years ago I went through a very difficult time – which included a sexual assault – and discovered a lot of new research on happiness while writing bouncing back — and writing a book all about resiliency psychology called The Bounce Back Book.
One thing I found super interesting was how crises can deplete your entire health. In fact, depression is considered by doctors to be “whole-body disorder”– having bad side effects on the heart, brain, bones, metabolism – you name it. So if you’re feeling depressed or upset, it’s very important to make sure you don’t overdraw on vitamins, minerals, and serotonin. You must eat healthfully and add in extra mood boosting vitamins — like St. John’s Wort, Ginkgo and SAM-e. In particular I recommend taking SAM-e – which is a naturally occurring molecule produced in your body that is there to help regulate your mood. When you’re stressed or not eating right it can get depleted, which increases moodiness and irritability. Nature Made makes the best SAM-e because it’s in super good moisture protective packaging.
Gretchen: Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve find very helpful?
Karen: I have a single word mantra I recommend – the word FORWARD. Whenever you’re tempted to dwell in the past, repeat this single word: Forward. Also, it helps if you’re a forward thinker and brainstorm up one positive thought and action to use to keep you moving forward. When you’re tempted to indulge in a negative, regressive behavior, consciously stop it and swap it for one that will move you forward!
Gretchen: If you’re feeling blue, how do you give yourself a happiness boost?
Karen: I love going for long walks with my dog. I cash in on multiple happiness boosters in one activity. Firstly I am with my adorable jackiuaua Maxine (studies all show pet time = happiness time). Next I am in the sun (ditto on the sunny mood benefits from being the very great outdoors). Thirdly, being with a dog leads to socializing with others (again – a mood enhancer). Finally, I am walking, walking, walking – which is terrific exercise and a mood pick-me-upper. In fact, a well-known research study at Duke University even showed that going for a brisk 30-minute walk three times a week is as effective as taking antidepressants to improve your mood.
Gretchen: Is there anything that you see people around you doing or saying that adds a lot to their happiness, or detracts a lot from their happiness?
Karen: Too many people ask themselves depressing questions. And if you ask depressing questions, you will 100% get depressing answers. For example it does no good to ask yourself: Why didn’t I . . .? What if . . .? Why me?
Would you accept some of the mean and nasty questions you ask yourself if they came from an outside source? Doubtful! So you gotta stop ‘em and swap ‘em immediately for these questions – which bounce you upward from a bad mood: What can I do to move forward? How can I grow from this challenge? What’s within my control to change?
I spent waaaaay too much time reading Passive Aggressive Notes this morning. Writing, or receiving, these notes isn’t a good route to happiness, but I did laugh out loud while I was reading a few of them.
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