Finding New “Happy Buttons”
Many of our pleasures, passions, hobbies and interests develop during childhood and adolescence. As a child we’re a bit like an empty chalkboard – nothing has been written on it yet…a blank slate. Our parents are often the ones who first write on the chalkboard. If they like to ski, they probably brought you along. If they like music and art, they probably tried to instill a love of music and art in you as well. And kids eat it all up…eager to explore and discover their world. Every experience is new to a young child. This is not to say that you will necessarily enjoy every experience they introduce you to, but good parents create opportunities for their children to share in their passions and encourage them to develop those of their own. While it is certainly possible to develop sources of pleasure later in life, it can be much more complicated. We get stuck in our comfort zones and if some of our previous sources of pleasures fall away or never really developed – that comfort zone can become awfully small.
What if your parents had few passions to share with you or worked such long hours that they had no time to share? What if your parents were not around or perhaps were not the best parents in the world? It’s also possible that you never had the opportunity to develop sources of pleasure and enjoyment for yourself. You never discovered what pushed your “happy buttons.” Alternatively, perhaps you had some “happy buttons” but can no longer participate. For example, skiing can be physically demanding and also expensive. Skiing might have been accessible at one time in your life and not as accessible in another. There are many explanations for why passions and pleasures at one time in your life don’t last throughout your lifetime.
Eating is a “happy button” for everyone. For some it’s a small pleasure and for others it’s their biggest pleasure. We are genetically wired to enjoy eating. Our species would not have lasted very long if that wasn’t the case. So the desire to eat and the rewards of eating are a “built in happy button.” In modern terms, it’s an app that comes with our iBrain. We like food. We love food. But if food is one of your only “happy buttons” and you push it too often…well….we know how that story goes.
Developing new happy buttons takes a great deal of work. Begin by asking yourself; “What would I like to do?” or “What could give me pleasure?” or “What used to give me pleasure that may once again?” Don’t be surprised if you draw a blank. If it was that easy you’d have a panel full of “happy buttons” to push by now. It’s understandable that skiing might not pop into your head if you’ve never been skiing before or if you’re still struggling with your weight and are questioning if you even could ski (you probably can!). Avoid that old impulse to shoot down everything that pops into your head. Reasons you CAN’T do things always seem more available than reasons you CAN. Don’t be discouraged. Remember back when you were a kid and everything was new and everything was cool? Try to recapture that spirit.
Two other ideas are to consider the many hobbies and interests that your friends and family enjoy as well as to discover the many things that are going on in your community. What do your friends and family do for fun? What kinds of activities are they involved in? What events are being promoted online and in your local newspaper? Instead of trying only to think of what you might enjoy, consider investigating what’s out there. Film festivals, concerts, street fairs, talks, classes, etc. Potential new “happy buttons” abound! Generate as many ideas as you can before editing them down. Again, work diligently to avoid the impulse to immediately say “no” to any of your great ideas. It’s so easy and maybe even automatic to think of why something ISN’T for you. Let the doors of your mind be open to let it in what COULD be. With an open and curious child-like mind, the sky is the limit.
I know…you’re sighing and saying things like, “It’s so hard,” or “I tried that already,” or “I’m not a “joiner”,” or maybe “I just don’t feel like it.” I understand, but consider this: OF COURSE YOU DON’T FEEL LIKE IT!!! As adults, we rarely feel like doing things we’ve never done before. The adult brain doesn’t like the new; it prefers the familiar…the comfortable. The adult brain prefers to run on autopilot. That is exactly why we keep going to the refrigerator or ordering take-out even though we know it is precisely what we SHOULDN’T be doing. If you are struggling with depression, anxiety or feelings of self-consciousness regarding your weight you might have an extra dose of “I don’t feel like it.” Fortunately, you don’t have to feel like it. Feel the feelings and try it anyway.
Have you ever not wanted to do something and were either encouraged to do it by a friend or pushed yourself to do it and found you actually enjoyed yourself? Of course you have. Because feelings are often WRONG! You’re not a fortune-teller and your initial feelings are not facts. Also consider that if you never try anything new and only do what is comfortable and familiar, you can’t possibly discover new “happy buttons.”
The “new” often feels scary and uncomfortable. That does not mean that it is scary or uncomfortable or that it will remain so. When you first tried to ride a bike, your enthusiasm was likely mixed with fear and anxiety that you might crash or hurt yourself. With encouragement after a few minutes, when you figured out how to steer away from the bushes and use the brakes, that feeling of anxiety was replaced with exhilaration and pride. The big scary waterslide at the amusement park that you refused to go down the first time quickly became the same slide you wanted to go down 50 times into the evening before you had to go home.
Yes, developing new “happy buttons” to replace eating isn’t easy. It can also be a little scary. You are fighting inertia and you are fighting your brain’s instinct to stick to what is safe and familiar. Comfort zones aren’t called comfort zones by coincidence! However, with consistent effort it is possible to change your thoughts and actions. You are in change of your own control panel and the buttons you put on panel. Your life is in your hands. Start experimenting, just as a child would and start pushing lots of buttons until a few become new “happy buttons.”