This post is the eighth in a series of posts exploring the 9 key factors that Dr Kelly Turner PhD found were present in the recoveries from advanced cancer that she studied in her book Radical Remission. Those 9 factors were:
- Radically changing your diet (Part 1 here and Part 2 here)
- Taking control of your health (here)
- Following your intuition (here)
- Using herbs and supplements (here)
- Releasing suppressed emotions (here)
- Increasing positive emotions (here)
- Embracing social support (here)
- Deepening your spiritual connection (here)
- Having strong reasons for living (here).
Our bodies, especially our immune systems, respond well to positive emotions. After we do an exercise that shows how our thoughts affect our bodies, I’ll share what I’ve practised over the last two years or so to increase my experience of positive emotions. To find out more about the book Radical Remission, go to the post “Being Radical – Introduction” here.
We all want to be happy. But the problem is that most of us look in the wrong places for happiness. To coin a cliche, happiness is an inside job. It involves sustained practice and commitment. It’s well worth the effort if we want to heal.
Remember in the post Being Radical – Releasing Suppressed Emotions, we explored the stress response and the long term effects it can have on the body? Well, the opposite is true. According to studies referred to in Radical Remission, positive emotions like love, joy and happiness release healing hormones such as “serotonin, relaxin, oxytocin, dopamine, and endorphins.” And the good news is that just by doing a few exercises for a short time each day, we can develop and strengthen our experience of these emotions.
The Radical Remission survivors that Kelly Turner spoke to all talked about:
“trying to feel more love, joy, and happiness … as they would talk about flossing their teeth or working out: they see happiness as a habit you have to practice daily in order to reap the desired benefits.”
What I think doesn’t really change how I feel, does it?
Not convinced that this can work for you? In this little video, I say hello and guide you through an exercise so that you can directly experience the effect of your thoughts on your body and the way it feels. Please watch it before you read on. I think you’ll be surprised.
So … can you see now why it might help to train our minds to think more positively so that we can experience more positive emotions? Did you feel the stress of the negative thoughts and the difference that thinking about something positive made?
Do I have to be happy all the time?
Not by a long shot. We need to allow ALL our emotions the freedom to move through us, to come when they are ready and go when they are ready. That’s why it’s so important not to stuff the so called “bad” emotions down.
Please don’t think that I’m telling you you need to be happy ALL day EVERY day. That’s not the intention at all. When you read Radical Remission, you’ll find out why. But in the meantime, one of the pioneer researchers into the relationship between our emotions and our health, Candace Pert, a neuroscientist and pharmacologist, wrote:
“By letting all emotions have their natural release, the “bad” ones are transformed to “good” ones, and , in Buddhist terms, we are then liberated from suffering. When your emotions are moving and your chemicals flowing, you will experience feelings of freedom, hopefulness, joy, because your are in a healthy, “whole” state.”
Positive thinking vs wishful thinking
In his ground breaking book You Can Conquer Cancer, Dr Ian Gawler discusses the important difference between positive thinking and wishful thinking. He says:
“Wishful thinking is where you hope for the best and do nothing about it. Positive thinking is where you hope for the best and do a lot about it.”
Our minds have enormous potential. And positive thinking means training our minds so that we can utilise that potential.
Okay. I want some of this. What can I do?
Here are my top tips for generating positive emotions, apart from meditation. When in doubt, always meditate.
Warning: some might feel really hard or they might just feel dicky. That’s okay. I don’t know about you but the first time I went to a yoga class I didn’t have a clue about what was going on. I felt like an idiot.
But I stayed and just did what I could. And came back for more. And eventually it made me feel good and I was able to approach it with some confidence and self-assuredness. This stuff is the same. Just do a little bit each day and before you know it, it will come naturally. And you’ll wonder what all the fuss was about.
Affirmations and mirror work
Did I just hear you groan? Yeah I know. It’s excruciating. But guess what??? Louise Hay did it, recovered from cancer and wrote the book “You Can Heal Your Life”. It worked for her.
The first time I looked into my own eyes (swoon) and said “I love you”, I spoke through gritted teeth. Then I cried. And now I smile.
Put affirmations in all kinds of places to remind you that you are loving and loveable. That deep down you are perfect just as you are right now. Type them up and print them out. Write on your mirror with a whiteboard marker. Set up a screen saver. Anything to remind you that you love yourself.
When he first started working in the West, His Holiness the Dalai Lama met with a number of Western mental health professionals. He has always been fascinated by the science of the mind. Someone mentioned “low self-esteem”. After much discussion between the Dalai Lama and his interpreter, it became apparent that there was no such word, let alone concept in Tibetan. He now has come to understand this as a Western affliction. We underestimate our actual qualities and our actual abilities. The Tibetans cherish themselves. I know which I prefer.
To love oneself is to love life
So love yourself up. Look at yourself in the mirror and say “I love you”. Appreciate yourself for all that you are. Accept yourself exactly as you are today.
Go on. I dare you. Look in the mirror and say to yourself: I love and accept myself completely and unconditionally.
Why wouldn’t you? You are amazing!
Using the I AM for meditation
This takes affirmations to a whole new level. Use your affirmation as a mantra in your meditation.
Ms Raw Mojo gave me a CD of Dr Wayne Dyer’s I Am Wishes Fulfilled meditation. In the Bible, God told Moses his name. God said “I am that I am”. James Twyman has encoded the original Hebrew and come up with some beautiful ethereal music known as the Moses Code. You sit and meditate, repeating to yourself “I am that, I am”. The “that” can be anything you aspire to be. As we are thought to have been made by God, and are a thought of God and part of God, we can be anything that is God-like – love, abundant, peace, forgiving, compassionate, kind. Just by setting the intention in our mind, and then bringing the feeling of that quality into our body. Regularly.
And you don’t have to believe in God or any divine being to do this.
When I came out of hospital last year, I practised this meditation for 20 minutes twice a day. Every time I said “that”, I thought of perfect health. I did it for over 4 months. I’m pretty well now. You can draw your own conclusions.
The more we focus on what we have, the less we notice what we don’t have. And in fact, some would say that the more we focus on what we have, the more we get. The more we attract those things into our life. Or maybe we just see the good stuff more so it feels like we get more. As long as it makes us happy on the inside, who cares? Really?
Even if you feel like you don’t have a lot, there is always something to be grateful for.
Think about the chair you are sitting on. Do you know how many people it took to make that chair and get it to you? The designer, the manufacturer, the people who collected the materials, the people who transported everything, the person who sold it to you, the people who made the car you took it home in, the people who fed those people? You get the idea. A lot of people’s collective effort went into that one chair you are sitting on. Isn’t that amazing???
And studies show that a daily gratitude practice can alleviate depression, anxiety etc. I wrote about that here.
So just before you get up in the morning, or just before you go to sleep at night, record AT LEAST 3 things you are grateful for. And share 3 right now with us. Go to the comments section, or the Facebook post and SHARE.
Hugs. Lots of hugs
20 second hugs release oxytocin, a neuropeptide released by the pituitary gland and commonly known as the “love drug”. This decreases the levels of cortisol in the body and lowers blood pressure.
So hug everyone you can – except people you don’t know because that might increase their anxiety – they might find it threatening.
If you haven’t got a human to hug, hug a pet. And if you don’t have a pet, get a soft toy like Schnuggles here. Schnuggles was my chemo companion. He’s actually a hand warmer but that didn’t matter. I found embracing Schnuggles made me feel relaxed and at ease.
Then there are heart-to-heart hugs. Usually when we hug another person, we bring the righthand sides of our bodies together. This protects our heart from the other person. When hugging someone you trust and love, try the other side. Bring your hearts into contact and see what a difference that makes! Now that’s a hug!
Even better, hug yourself and say “I love you” at the same time. Go on. Do it!
If you can, go get a hug from the huggers of all huggers – Amma.
Amma is an Indian spiritual leader who has embraced over 34 million people. She has been known to hug people for over 30 hours in one sitting. When asked where she gets the energy to do this, she said “Where there is true love, anything is effortless.”
Last week Amma hugged me (and about another thousand people in one day). Her capacity for unconditional love, compassion and empathy knows no bounds. She held me in a firm embrace and I sobbed. I felt like Mother Earth had enfolded me. It was like coming home. She whispered in my ear but I don’t know what she said. She doesn’t speak English. When the hug was over, she lifted my head and seeing the tears, wiped them with a tissue and gave me a joyful kiss on the cheek. I really felt blessed.
You can find out more about Amma on her website here. We are lucky that she regularly visits Melbourne.
Go on a ‘news fast’
Dr Andrew Weil came up with this when he wrote his book “Spontaneous Healing.” He’s included it in his new book, “Spontaneous Happiness.”
In his programme for optimal health, he suggests excluding news in any form for one day a week, building up to an entire week without exposure to news. People who do it report reduced anxiety and worry and increased happiness.
Sure there are times we need to know what is going on, but let’s be honest, how many uplifting news stories do we hear? And how many stories do you hear that you can actually do anything about?
I used to be a news junkie – I would read the papers, watch 3 versions of the nightly news on different channels and constantly scour the web. These days I just allow the news to come to me. I don’t seek it out. It doesn’t mean that I don’t care. But it means that I don’t live in the same state of constant outrage and anxiety. And when an issue touches my heart, I consider what I can do about it – sign a petition, donate, inform people, write a letter, vote differently, support a campaign or just pray or send loving kindness to those involved.
Mahatma Gandhi said to be the change we want to see in the world. We don’t need to saturate our minds with the news of the world to try to be the kindest, most loving version of ourselves we can be.
Laughter is the best medicine
It’s easy to take a healing journey seriously. Too seriously. Sometimes we just have to let go and laugh. Great big belly laughs. Not only do we feel better afterwards but studies show that a good old laugh can significantly reduce our stress and boost our immune system. No wonder Patch Adams took laughter into the hospitals and laughter clubs have taken off. And in Radical Remission, you can read the story of one woman who used laughter and established the Comedy Cures Foundation as the basis of her healing journey.
When I came out of hospital after the Great Immune System Crash, I watched back to back comedies. My cousin and I immersed ourselves in Woody Allen films (no apologies – Bullets over Broadway has to be one of the funniest films I’ve ever seen) and I lay on the couch, with Schnuggles, and just laughed and laughed.
Finally … don’t take yourself too seriously. Here is my most favourite ever line from a song, together with the extremely 1980s film clip.
The best thing you’ve ever done for me was to help me take myself less seriously.
It’s only life after all – Indigo Girls, Closer to Fine
What is your favourite way to bring positive emotions into your life?
Please share with us and don’t forget to let us know 3 things you are grateful for. Start the journey to more happiness and joy today!
Be HAPPY. Be well. Just be.
Radical Remission, Dr Kelly Turner
Molecules of Emotion: Candace B. Pert PhD
Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill: Matthieu Ricard
You Can Heal Your Life: Louise Hay
The Art of Happiness at Work: His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler MD
You Can Conquer Cancer: Dr Ian Gawler
Spontaneous Happiness: Andrew Weil MD
Wishes Fulfilled: Dr Wayne Dyer
I Am Wishes Fulfilled: Meditation by Dr Wayne Dyer and James Twyman
Fun Facts about Hugging: Dr Mercola
Laughter May Boost Immune System: CancerConnect.com