(Can being happy help with chronic fatigue syndrome? How important is happiness to our health? And who was truly happy even before they became ill?) Depression is common in people with chronic illnesses and I would warrant that even small upsets tweak people who have stress -response-immune disorders such as fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. Dr. Klimas noted that behavioral therapies can be helpful in anyone with an immune mediated disorder but maybe the most essential question is…why not be happy anyway?
With this blog on ‘Infusing Joy Into Your Daily Regimes’ Johannes Starke begins a series of blogs from different authors on finding ways to reduce the fight/flight response that studies suggest is present in this disorder and create more wellness – Cort).
Since I’ve had chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), cleaning the kitchen, taking a shower, and even brushing my teeth can be a chore. I completed these day-to-day tasks, but I didn’t enjoy them. If anything, I would feel annoyed while engaging in them and exhausted by the time I finished.
Since I knew I would have to brush my teeth for the rest of my life, I decided to find a way to introduce joy into the activity. Integrating cutting-edge research with my own trial and error experience, I came up with an approach to deriving maximum enjoyment from brushing my teeth and other day-to-day routines.
And it works! I am much happier and more energized since I use the technique I’m about to explain in this article. I hum my way through brushing my teeth, and sing when I prepare my breakfast. Where I used to be flustered and tired, I am now infused with energy and joy.
Why this approach works
My simple approach employs the scientifically proven benefits of mindfulness and music.
Mindfulness is the art of filling our mind with the impressions of the present moment. Let me give you an example:
Have you ever tried to sing “Singing in the Rain” while you were dancing outside in a downpour? If you have, you may have noticed how singing amplified your experience. I vividly remember the last time I sang and danced in the rain. Standing in the rain wasn’t that special at first, but as I began to sing, I suddenly noticed how the cold rain brought my face alive, how sweet the taste of the moist air was, and how much I liked the beautiful smile on my date’s wet face. My mind was full of the impressions of the present moment, and that’s what made it special.
A New York Times article that summarizes a recent Harvard happiness study confirms my point, stating: “Whether it is having sex or reading or shopping, [people] tended to be happier if they focused on the activity instead of thinking about something else.”
How You Can Do It in Less Than Five Minutes
“But how,” you ask, “do I fill my mind with the impression of brushing my teeth?” I’ll teach you in a simple and fun five-step process, which will take less than ten minutes of your time. Grab a pen and a blank sheet of paper, and you’re ready to begin.
Choose the daily routine you’d most like to infuse with energy and joy. It can be anything, from showering to getting dressed to preparing your breakfast.
Choose now and note the routine at the top of your blank sheet of paper.
Decide on how you want to feel while you complete the daily routine you chose in step one.
In the morning when I prepare my breakfast, I am still sleepy and a little moody. But that’s not how I want to feel. I want to feel happy, relaxed, and grateful for the fresh organic apple oatmeal I get to enjoy each morning.
However, I don’t want to feel relaxed and happy all the time. Different ways of feeling lend themselves to different activities. When I take my shower, for example, I want to feel focused and full of energy. I want to feel as if I were a healthy, muscular Native American warrior whose shower is a waterfall in the lively coastal forests of Northern California.
How you want to feel is completely up to you. Note your choice on the piece of paper.
Find a melody that evokes in you the feeling you’ve decided on in step two.
My recent creation of a breakfast preparation song illustrates how to pick the right melody. As I mentioned, I want to feel relaxed and happy when I prepare my breakfast, so I decided on the melody of “In, Out,” a song I know from my weekly meditation group meetings. I associate the song with happiness and relaxation, so I am able to conjure up these positive emotions whenever I sing it.
Do you know a song that makes you feel the way you want to feel when completing your routine? Note it on the sheet of paper. You can’t think of the right song? Think of your childhood memories and use a simple melody that comes to your mind. If you still can’t think of a melody, no need to worry. You can skip this step and use this technique “words only.”
Now put words to the activity you’ve chosen in step three.
This morning, when I prepared my breakfast, I began my song with the following words:
Apple, apple, green fresh apple;
Apple, apple, green fresh apple.
Container, container, oatmeal container;
Red, red, red measuring cup.
The words in the verse amplify the image in my mind of the apple, oatmeal, and measuring cup in front of me. My mind is filled with the impressions of the present moment. I experience the miracle of mindfulness.
When you put words to the melody, don’t worry about making it perfect. You are not on American Idol. Simon Cowell will not bash you for your shortcomings as a singer. If your verse doesn’t fit the melody, fill in with a hum, or any other sound. As a secret benefit, making up words on the spot will ensure that the descriptions of the objects in front of you stay fresh and vivid over time.
Let Me Summarize
In the four steps above, you’ve learned to fill any activity with color and joy: pick a daily routine, think about how you want to feel, choose a melody, and make it a song by putting the right words to it.
Most importantly—and this is step five— try it. Since I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, I’ve had limited energy for all the activities in my day. As a result, I gained an awareness of how precious each moment of my life is. Now that I sing my way through day-to-day activities, I can appreciate each moment for the present it is.
What if you tried it?
I believe my approach to enjoying daily routines has the potential to change your life for the better. Will you commit to singing your way through your chosen day-to-day activity for one week? Try it, and then judge the results for yourself.
What do you think? Leave a comment under this post to share your experience. Please also do ask any questions you may have; I’ll be sure to answer.
Johannes Starke has come a long way in recovering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, is a professionally trained Life Coach Fatigue Therapist, and has been coaching clients for over three years. He is the founder of CFS Recovery Project, where he supports people with ME/CFS and Fibromyalgia in regaining their health and happiness.
In February he’ll be teaching a free recovery skills e-course on a topic of your choice. Vote on the course topic and reserve your seat at: http://cfsrecoveryproject.com/free-e-course/
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