Spontaneous Happiness


Right before the window closed on finishing 50 books in 2014, I read a PopSugar post about 40 Life Changing Books to Read in the New Year. As I read through the list, I realized that all of them were self-help books. Since reading is mostly an escape for me, unfortunately, I've never really found much value in those.

But one of the books, Spontaneous Happiness, sounded sort of interesting, because it was about nutrition and lifestyle and how they affect your mood. Knowing I might not finish it if I bought the paperback, I downloaded it on Audible and finished it a week before the year ended, making it my final "read" of 2014.

So was it life changing?

Well, I probably wouldn't go that far. At least not nearly as life-changing as reading The Fast Metabolism Diet was. In fact, it covered a lot of the same principles. Reinforced them and made them that much more important to me: Avoid caffeine, remove processed food from your diet, get regular exercise.

But it did bring some new tips for a healthier lifestyle to light. The author, Dr. Weil, is focused on combining eastern and western methodologies in his medical research and practice. He believes in the mind-body connection, which I like, and has founded the Center for Integrative Medicine in Arizona to explore it further.

He's also a proponent of many of the same dietary principles as Pomroy is in the FMD. In fact, he started an amazing chain of restaurants called True Food Kitchen along those principles. We have one in San Diego in the Fashion Valley Mall and their food is a. maz. ing.

Weil's main focus in Spontaneous Happiness isn't necessarily on our diet, however, though that is a key solution to what he believes is an epidemic. That epidemic is depression and anxiety, and he has a lot of convincing research as to why our current methods for treating them aren't working. Furthermore, he believes that our standard for our emotional setpoint is too low, resulting in a vicious cycle.

As for me, my main takeaways were learnings and lifestyle changes that he suggested to generally create a happier setpoint. These were a few of the thoughts and recommendations that I found interesting:

His greatest moments of happiness were when he came to the realization that everything is as it should be. For him, happiness comes from a "deep knowing that I was alright, on the right track, doing what I had been put here for... had opportunities for travel, adventure, learning and discovery... I liked myself and knew I was the person I was supposed to be."

Community is crucial to emotional well-being. Weil stresses the importance of a circle of friends to meet with regularly to support health and healing.

Light affects our moods. Weil urges you to get outdoors frequently. He presents a great deal of research on the effects of light, something I can't agree enough with. It's definitely a major part of the reason I moved to California and it's always nice to hear my reasons validated by science.

Many symptoms associated with depression and anxiety can be partially or wholly treated with natural remedies. Whenever I think of natural remedies, I think of people who are either in denial or are ignorant of what medicine can do for them. But after reading this book, I think there is some value in exploring natural remedies, at least as a component of treating mental illness. One recommendation was using ashwagandha for those who are under chronic stress, not sleeping well, feel tired and have muscle aches and pains. Weil gives a recipe for ashwagandha tea: Simmer 1-2 teaspoons of powdered ashwandha with two cups of milk on low heat for 15 minutes.Then add 2 teaspoons of honey and 1/8th a teaspoon of ground cardamom, stir well, and turn off the heat. Drink 1 cup up to 2x a day.

Breath work is the most effective treatment for anxiety. As I learn more about meditation and pranayama breathing in yoga, I believe that there is a lot of truth to this. Weil says that putting your intention on the breath helps to shift tension away from emotionally upsetting thoughts. He walks you through 4-7-8 breathing, which essentially is inhaling for 4 counts, holding the breath for 7 counts and exhaling for 8 counts. I've been doing this at least once a day and am trying to remember to do it whenever I get stressed at work.

Information Overload is a real problem. We all know this, at least secretly. Setting boundaries for how accessible stressful information is, like the news or incessant texts from a toxic person, is part of the solution. Digital detoxes are something that I personally am trying to start incorporating more often.

Physical expressions can stimulate emotions as well as the inverse. Weil includes a couple of examples of this such as laughing yoga and a clinical study on smiling. Basically, the gist is that if you smile like you mean it, eventually it will positively affect your mood. Until you actually mean it.

Add supplements to your diet that will mitigate stress and promote happiness. Specifically, Weil recommends fish oil (2-4g a day that provides both EPAand DHA. Pass up Omega 6 and 9. Make sure it's molecularly distilled. Freeze capsules to avoid burps), Vitamin D (2000 IUD of vitamin D3), and in a multivitamin: Folic Acid (400 micrograms), Vitamin B6 (50 milligrams), and Vitamin B12 (50 micrograms).

His findings are really interesting and on that basis alone, I'd recommend this book to anyone who suffers from or knows people who suffer from depression and anxiety, if only to learn more about these two conditions from his perspective.

2014 '50 Books' Progress: 11/50

That's it for books in 2014! Sadly, despite my hardest efforts I only managed to tie last year's book count. We'll see what 2015 brings!