Smile Your Way to a Healthier Heart
In the center of our own body, there is a small shrine in the form of a lotus flower
And within it can be found a small space.
The heavens and the earth are there: the sun, the moon, and the stars, fire and lightning and winds – the whole universe dwells within our heart.
~ Adapted from the Upanishads, M. Shimoff
What does it take to have a healthy heart? Exercise? Friends? A loving partner?
Loving our self.
A healthy anything starts with a desire to take care of our self and, most importantly, our heart. For eons people all over the world have known that the heart is the seat of our emotions. We recognize this when we suffer “heartbreak.”
Healing from such pain can take days, months or ever years. How do we do it? Marcia Shimoff, author of Happy For No Reason, writes, “Happy people let love lead in their lives.” Just as much as we feel the pain of heartache, we can feel the joy of happiness in its place. I know, I suffered from a heartbreak for years until I learned her secret.
“All of our emotions can be divided into two basic categories: Love and Fear,”(2). When we love with an open heart, we are literally, opening up the energy field for love to flow out and to come into our hearts. When we reside in fear our hearts “contract” and close off to any heart-healthy emotion: gratitiude, forgiveness, lovingkindness, etc.
Of course we know this but, do we know this? When we are angry or sad we give in to the emotion – which is healthy initially (as long as we don’t harm ourselves or another). It’s when we stay stuck that it becomes unhealthy and can be debilitating. One way to get out of this is to “force” your self to think about the positive. Our brains are not “cemented” to a certain way of thinking. We train our brains to think certain things by ignoring the subtle signs we are headed down that path. But, we can retrain them to go down the path of uplifting and loving thoughts as well.
Daniel G. Amen, of Change Your Brain, Change Your Body, offers similar advice, “Focus on what you love about your life and those around you, and your heart will be healthier and happier.” It will also help you live longer.
I can tell you from experience this sometimes seems impossible but, just try these few steps listed below the next time you find yourself “stuck in a rut” over something and see if it helps – even a tiny bit. After all, you didn’t get in that habit overnight. Doesn’t it make sense to try to change it back to “Happy” one thought at a time?
- Laughter – Laughter can influence our whole bodies, uplift our moods, reduce levels of stress hormones (i.e., cortisol, dopamine and epinephrine) and increase the love-your-body hormones, endorphins.
- Gratitude – You don’t need more of anything in your life to be happy – just simply be grateful for what you do have. Look around you. Think of ten things right now that you can be grateful for: a wonderful spouse/significant other, kids who laugh (they’re a natural at this!) for silly reasons, cool socks with funky designs – make a list!
Having a hard time with that? Commit yourself to this then: Every time you think a negative thought, force yourself to come up with 5 positive things about that one negative situation. However, remotely connected push through the negative to think positive thoughts. It may truly be a struggle sometimes but, you CAN do it!
- Meditation and Yoga – Both are proven stress reducers, which leads to opening our hearts.
- Warm hands – Yes, I said, warm your hands. Not just blowing your breath on your hands but, using biofeedback techniques to increase the blood flow from your brain to your hands will help your body relax (think of placing your hands in warm mittens or, “seeing” the blood flow from your brain to your hands, etc.). Or, grab the hand of your partner. A study done at the University of Colorado at Boulder, “…found that holding warm things may actually make people view others more favorably and may also make people more generous.” (1)
- Get some body work done: soothe your heart with some Reiki energy, an acupressure treatment, an overall body massage – anything to help relax you and aid in releasing the stress and emotions you’ve been carrying around.
There are lots more ways to take care of our hearts and lead happier lives. Start with these simple steps and you’re on your way to more “healthy and happy” overall.
- Change Your Brain, Change Your Body, Amen, Daniel G. 2010, Harmony Books, New York, NY.
- Happy For No Reason, Shimoff, Marci 2008 Free Press, New York, NY.