Doctor In Your House: The proven road to happiness
BY EVAN L. LIPKIS, MD Special Columnist
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Where do you find happiness? Does it come from being very wealthy? Does it occur when your mate proclaims their love for you? Does it happen after you accomplish a monumental task for yourself?
While most people would feel happy with any of the above, would the inner flame continue to burn? It is important to note that all of these are external causes of happiness and may only be temporary.
I have always been told that happiness is found from within. Of course, that has always been a nebulous subject. But now, biochemistry is clearing the path for all of us. There is a simple specific way that we can become happier and most of us have known this all our lives.
First, here’s a little background. Inflammation is the body’s automatic response to both injury and irritation. High-fat foods, excessive carbohydrates, smoking, pollution and obesity can cause the immune system to turn on itself and lead to a multitude of diseases. Chronic inflammation can damage heart valves, brain cells, initiate strokes, promote diabetes and even lead to cancer. Now, even psychiatric disorders such as depression and anxiety have been shown to be an inflammatory state. We can even assess the inflammation in the bloodstream by measuring the amount of cytokines in the blood.
That’s why primary practitioners emphasize lifestyle changes such as exercise, a Mediterranean diet and smoking cessation. These interventions can reduce inflammation without relying upon medications. For example, antidepressants can reduce inflammation, but so can exercise and diet.
Now we have an additional way to fight stress and depression, which relates to lifestyle changes. Stress often precipitates depression by stimulating the production of these inflammatory biomarkers in the blood by genes governing our immune cells. So how can one stop this noxious cascade of events?
I was stunned by what follows.
A study in North Carolina showed how people obtain their well-being may be a vital determinant. Two groups of individuals were examined. The first group achieved gratification by participating in an activity for themselves. The second group achieved gratification by helping others.
While both groups felt happier, only the second group had reduced levels of inflammation.
If I eat my favorite food, I may be happier. But, if I provide food for others, I will be happier and have lower levels of inflammation. Lower levels of inflammation seem to lead to less disease throughout our bodies. So this is the biochemical road to happiness without the need for medicines!
Here is a possible road to happiness:
Help yourself first. While this may not lower disease, it is a necessary prerequisite in order to help others. Loving yourself and creating more self- confidence are important factors. Self-hypnosis, meditation, psychotherapy, exercise, medicines and a Mediterranean diet can really help in this endeavor. I recommend Arche International. This is an incredible place that allows you to help yourself in a most practical manner. Dr. Rosita Rodriguez formed this charitable organization in 1967 and Sandy Deliege is an outstanding instructor. They have helped thousands in a nonreligious manner. Their web site is: www.archeinternational.org
Begin to think about activities that can help others. Talk about this activity with both family and friends. Get the juices flowing. Connect with your passion. What activity really motivates and excites you just to think about it? Finally, take action. Increase your level of happiness while simultaneously reducing your level of inflammation and disease.
Doctor’s Summary: Happiness comes from within. You are the cause of your life. Connect first with yourself and then begin to help others. This road to happiness and less disease has now been verified biochemically. Consider Arche International as an important resource.
Evan Lipkis, MD, is a physician, author and lecturer based in Glenview, Illinois. The advice contained in this column is for informational purposes only. Readers should consult with their physician to evaluate any illness or medical condition. Contact Dr. Lipkis through his website at www.drlipkis.com.