I came across a short article about happiness in my new favorite magazine, Real Simple. The more I study and learn about the workings of the brain and the chemistry involved in emotional health (and, not surprisingly, eating), I am increasingly sure that much of our happiness is predictable AND CONTROLLABLE.
The article, called “The Science of Happiness” draws on research to itemize several ways of increasing our chances of having it. What could be more important? The connection to eating is obvious to anyone who has ever eaten to relieve stress, boredom, sorrow, anger, . . . . Is there anyone who has never done that?!
The point that got my head bobbing up and down affirmatively was #3 on the list: Don’t dwell. I remember taking that bit of wisdom away from a conference about stress and its physiological effects. The science simply does not support the productiveness of overanalyzing. Once a person starts obsessing, even with the good intention of gaining insight, brain chemistry takes a nosedive. Obsessing, as opposed to truly novel thinking, is just a rerun of the same material over and over. It produces no valuable insights and feels helpless.
Over time, self-confidence can suffer as a direct result of poor problem solving. The science helps to understand why so many people have trouble when eating feels out of control. The tendency is often to obsess, lack any creative thought, and fall in a deep emotional hole. It is hard to dig out, and continued dwelling on it cannot be the answer.
A little observation can be productive, such as “I did not need that second donut. I wonder why I ate it. Is there something to learn from this? Did I go too long without food? Do I feel stressed?” Non-judgmental thought can be helpful, but when thinking starts to sound like a looped tape, playing the same negative messages over and over (“I should not have done that. I am a failure. I will be fat forever.”), it is time to say “ENOUGH!”
Find something to get attention on a new activity – and move on! You may be able to reflect briefly later, when your thinking is clearer – or not. You do not need to understand everything you do, every time you do it. Sometimes it is enough to just acknowledge that you do not understand. Then you can laugh it off and chalk it up to being human. Moving on does not mean letting yourself off easy. It just means that there is nothing more to gain by further analysis, at least not at that time.