The idea that happiness, something we think of as a feeling that comes in response to something else, can happen automatically, without prompting, seems almost nonsensical. But Andrew Weil, the renowned integrative physician, author, and Yoga Journal Live! presenter, says that with steady and regular effort (that's abhyasa to you, yogis) to create health and balance in your life, real happiness will arise naturally, and yes, spontaneously.
In his bestselling 2011 book Spontaneous Happiness: A New Path to Emotional Well-Being, Weil, who stays happy and healthy by adhering to an anti-inflammatory diet, practicing pranayama and meditating every morning, says yoga and meditation can help you achieve contentment and serenity no matter what is going on around you. They're integral parts to his happiness plan. What else? Creating routines that help you maintain a sense of equilibrium: eating a healthy diet at established meal times, doing regular aerobic exercise, getting enough sleep, and spending time outdoors, among other habits.
Read on to learn how to create the circumstances for more happiness in your life.
Yoga Journal: What is "spontaneous happiness"?
Andrew Weil, MD: In 1995, I wrote Spontaneous Healing, a book that explored the body's amazing capacity to heal itself. The premise was that if the body is supported by healthy diet and lifestyle choices, its innate healing mechanisms spontaneously activate to bring physical systems into better health and balance. I contend that something similar can happen with our emotions—if you give yourself whats necessary to support health in body, mind and spirit—emotional balance can arise within you on its own.
YJ: You talk about resilience as a key part of this kind of happiness. Can you explain?
Weil: Resilience and balance are core elements of emotional well being; resilience enables us to bounce back from losses and prevents us from getting stuck in unhealthy emotional states. When we are resilient we better recognize the dynamic nature of moods and learn how to control their variability; in so doing, we can find comfort in knowing they will soon return to the neutral balance point of contentment and serenity. Yoga and meditation are two of my favorite practices for enhancing resilience.
YJ: How can we stay balanced during busy and stressful times?
Weil: We can reduce stress during [these times] by lowering expectations and making healthy choices such as limiting commitments to those you know you will enjoy; sticking to a reasonable budget; avoiding excessive eating and drinking; and getting at least seven hours of sleep each night to help overcome fatigue and restore energy. Keep up your daily aerobic exercise routine by taking long walks outside when the weather permits, arrange your workspace so that you are exposed to a window during daylight hours, and consider supplementing your diet with 1,000 -2,000 IU of vitamin D3. Practice forgiveness to calm your spirit, limit the time you spend on the Internet, and cultivate an attitude of gratitude.