Las Vegas Sun

February 18, 2019

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Find your happiness: Mental health tips for the modern era

Happiness illo

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It’s the modern-day version of waiting by the telephone, twisting that long-forgotten spiral cord around your fingers. Perhaps you’ve agonized over a text message or social media post. Why isn’t the person writing back? Why isn’t this photo getting more likes? It seems a little silly, almost embarrassing, to put those concerns into words. Like we should all be above worrying about a stupid post. But it’s harder than it looks. Humans need to be liked, loved, even admired. And modern living—technology, social media, stress and the constant barrage of information and distraction—can and has been proven to sap our happiness. There’s hope. According to research in the Review of General Psychology, 50 percent of happiness is genetic and 10 percent is because of circumstances, such as wealth or beauty. That means 40 percent of our individual wellbeing is in our control. We’ve compiled this guide showing obstacles and solutions to cultivating happiness on your own—no social media likes required.

Beat the constant barrage of social media

• Problem: Social media use that involves negative interactions or comparing yourself to others can lead to higher levels of depression and anxiety, according to a systematic review by the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

• Solution: “To find your own happiness, you have to put down your cellphone,” says Las Vegas therapist Stephen Stepanovich. “Can you detach from social media long enough to just have a conversation, even if that conversation is just with yourself?” He says that improvement comes from taking time to have real-life social interactions and to work on yourself while avoiding comparisons with others.

If you have the self-discipline to deactivate from Facebook altogether, you can expect a bump in mood and life satisfaction, more face time with friends and family, as well as an extra hour a day of free time, according to a new study reported by The New York Times.

Manage your time in an increasingly busy world

• Problem: We live in an always-on culture, where we're frantically jumping from one thing to another with no chance for a break.

• Solution: A study from the Harvard Business Review says that planned active leisure time, such as volunteering or hiking, brings more happiness than passive leisure time, such as streaming videos or scrolling social media. Another study out of the Harvard Business School finds value in spending money to escape the tasks that make you unhappy (such as lawn maintenance, housework or cooking).

Cultivate happiness from within

• Problem: Sometimes it feels like your loved ones are not meeting your needs. Or perhaps it feels like you’re not loved enough.

• Solution: “In order to cultivate happiness, we have to stop moving, be still and allow time to reflect,” advises Las Vegas therapist BC Madison Gulli of Integrated Wholeness. She suggests practicing self-care or self love, and looking at how to meet your own needs instead of always focusing on how to meet the needs of others. “People need to give themselves permission to take time to slow down.” She says that happiness ultimately comes from within.

Make a life around movement

• Problem: The conveniences of technology—from cars to screens to robot vacuums—lead to sedentary lifestyles. Only one third of adults meet the weekly recommendations for physical activity, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In addition to its serious health risks, sitting around all day, even if it’s at an office desk, can make you groggy and listless.

• Solution: The good news is that physical activity lowers the risk of depression, according to a new study in JAMA Psychiatry. In addition to the physical health benefits, exercise improves mood, boosts energy, helps you sleep and will even approve you sex life, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Use your phone strategically

• Problem: Remember the days of the flip phone, when you could accidentally leave your phone at home and not notice till lunch? Today, it’s impossible to escape your phone for even a minute. It’s just too dang useful.

• Solution: Since you can’t ditch it, you might as well make your phone work with you. Gulli recommends choosing a phone app (or several) for the necessary work of self-reflection, journal keeping and meditation. A note-taking app with dictation helps those who don’t like typing. Any diary app should have a locking mechanism, according to Gulli, because inner dialogue and reflection should be private in order to honestly assess your own feelings.

Narrow down your purpose

• Problem: We have more freedom than ever before. Old loyalties, gender norms and traditional career paths have given way to a joyous free-for-all. But with so many options, it can feel like we’re expected to succeed at everything, and that can led to major stress, disappointment and self-loathing.

• Solution: Having a sense of purpose will make you happier; just don’t try to be good at everything all at once. “Find something that you’re really interested in doing and pursue it,” Stepanovich advises. It doesn’t matter what you choose—anything from parenthood to hip-hop works. Just go boldly into your pursuit. “In order to find happiness, you can’t be afraid to step outside your bubble. When you take a risk and it pays off, that pays a happiness dividend. It sounds simple, and it really is. It comes down to putting yourself out there and taking yourself out of the box.”

This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.