October 18, 2020
If you knew you were dying, what would you choose to do with every day you had left?
Whether you have twenty, forty, or sixty years — even though sixty years sounds like a long time — it will glide past like the Shanghai Magiev in China that cruises by at 267.8 mph. I know.
Well, you are dying, eventually. So what should you be doing?
Start with a smile.
Smiling — even fake smiling — releases dopamine into your system, which elevates your mood with almost no effort whatsoever.
Every time you smile, your brain releases neurotransmitters, most importantly, dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin. All three of these brain chemicals help calm your nervous system by lowering heart rate and blood pressure. So lots of smiles may even make you live longer.
Dopamine heightens energy and motivation and feels like a rush. It’s also necessary for habit change, a benefit that needs to get way more press.
Endorphins reduce your perception of pain and trigger a positive, euphoric feeling in the body, similar to morphine.
And serotonin plays many different roles, but it can be thought of as the confidence molecule and flows when you feel significant. It controls your overall mood.
Debbie Hampton, blogger, and creator of The Best Brain Possible, says:
“Each time you smile, a little party happens in your head.”
We could all use more of that these days!
Laugh as often as possible.
Yes, a lot is going on that’s profoundly disturbing and, if we let it, the world can suck the laughter right out of us. Don’t let it happen!
My all-time favorite thing, better than sex or hot fudge sundaes, is laughing till I cry. There have been a few people in my life who trigger that response.
What I missed most after moving away from a coworker with whom I shared an office for many years, was laughing together till we cried. A community mental health center can offer some harsh reality, and we learned that we had to find joy in even the smallest things.
When my son left home, I realized that he had kept me laughing till I cried most of his growing up years. When he left, I was afraid I’d never find anyone who could share that with me, and then I found Frank. He loves to laugh, and we do it surprisingly well, and often.
Even my thinking can make me laugh out loud. I am endlessly entertained by watching my crazy thoughts and recognizing that most of them are nuts. I laugh out loud at the image of all of us walking around with a thought bubble over our heads that everyone passing by can see. Can you imagine how appalled — and admit it, entertained — we’d be if we knew everything everyone else was thinking, and vice versa?
My mother used to be driven nuts by men who did comb-overs. As she got older and more comfortable with saying anything that came into her head, she would stage-whisper, loud enough that anyone within a block could hear, “Someone needs to tell that poor man that he would be so much more attractive if he’d just shave his head.” Now, entirely outside of my ability to control, I have that same thought when I see a comb-over.
I have the thought, and then I smile.
Start watching your thoughts and see if they don’t make you laugh out loud, or at least crack a smile.
Use a triangle as a criterion for making healthy decisions.
The first side of the triangle represents your needs. The second side reflects the needs of everyone else involved, and the bottom side represents reality. When making decisions, most of us tend to be weak in one or two of the sides. We make decisions out of habit, and if we haven’t learned effective practices, we can unknowingly and repeatedly shoot ourselves in the foot.
If you cave to everyone else’s needs and neglect your own to keep everyone else happy, you may end up resenting those you were “helping,” and end up feeling more like a victim or martyr than a helper.
If you ignore everyone else’s needs but make sure to meet yours, you may end up very alone. Narcissism is the new diagnosis du jour. To say it’s unattractive is a gross understatement.
And if you ignore reality, like my client many years ago who in a manic episode took two friends to Vegas and blew her $50,000 inheritance over a weekend, you can majorly screw up your life. She did what she wanted and made her friends happy, but was oblivious to the reality of what she was doing to her future.
Make developing and maintaining healthy relationships your North Star.
On your deathbed, you’re probably not going to remember that you got all the reports in on time because you’re a perfectionist. But maybe you will care that working late night after night made you miss your kid’s games or dance recitals. Kids remember. They can tell when they don’t seem to matter.
Consider the idea that how we treat all the people in our world may be the most important measure of who we are. And making the development of healthy relationships your North Star may be the most crucial decision you’ll ever make.
Do four things.
Yes, we live in a complicated world. And yes, we face countless situations that push us to our limits. But if we remember these four things, the rest of our lives will be just a tiny bit less complicated and stressful.
Smile, even when you don’t feel like it if you want to feel better.
Laugh out loud until you cry — and laugh so loud they can hear you on the other side of the building.
Use the triangle when making any decisions — consider your needs, everybody else’s needs, and reality.
Make developing and maintaining healthy relationships your North Star, the sooner the better.
There are only a few people over my lifetime who have modeled this approach to the world. They didn’t invent penicillin, but they all struck me as gentle giants and rocked my world.