When asked the question, "What do you want out of life?" most people respond with the same fervent answer. "To be happy!" That answer however, is a big lie. Okay, maybe not exactly a lie, but rather, a misunderstanding about the definition of happiness. Years ago I posited this question to myself, and I, too, responded with the same answer.
Back then I lived a vastly different life brimming with stress: ever-looming deadlines, uncomfortable shoes, the constant ringing of the telephone (cell phone and fax machine, too), stacks of papers, a lack of sleep, a pen in one hand and a paddle in the other (a paddle I was using to ferociously row up a dimly-lit creek -- we all know the name of that creek). Despite this, when I asked the aforementioned question above in said paragraph one (yes, I am a lawyer), I answered with an out-of-breath yet enthusiastic, "I want to be happy!"
As I spent years chasing the elusive and fleeting feeling of happiness, I came to realize that I was in need of a new GPS, so to speak. At this brilliant pause (admittedly, I sometimes used to do a "slow-down-rolling-semi-stop" when driving) I realized the true answer to the question was that I desired peace.
Why peace? Peace is truly what we yearn for, because without it, real happiness is simply not possible. Peace is foundational to happiness. Peace, I have discovered, is foundational to everything!
Back to my stress-filled life... As I took that pause, the thought that peace was indeed what I longed for was an intriguing proposition and so as a lawyer, I set out to prove it. To reroute my GPS from seeking happiness to peace, I started with a simple question. Where in the H-E-double hockey sticks does one find peace? I came up with four simple steps:
Step 1: Think of a time I felt peace.
Step 2: Replicate.
Step 3: Rinse.
Step 4: Repeat.
Step 1 was easy to recall, and I am sure many women can relate -- maternity leave! Well, what I am actually referring to is breastfeeding. Breastfeeding my three children was always an ultra-peaceful experience for me. So, as for Step 1: Check!
Step 2: Replicate. Easy. Start breastfeeding again. Wait! No! That would be rather difficult unless I was to become a wet nurse (doubt anyone was hiring). Thus, an analysis began and I surfed my way through research that led me to the interesting subject of hormones.
The oxytocin hormone is a powerful hormone, often referred to as the "love hormone," but I refer to it as the hormone of "peace and calm." Both sexes produce oxytocin but women, in larger amounts and in a uniquely robust way. (You go, girls!)
Oxytocin is best known by mothers -- it is released when a woman nurses her baby. Nature created it this way to help form an emotional bond between her and the little one. In other words, it helps bring us back to a place of peace and love, while intermittently dealing with poopie diapers and nighttime cry fests. Ah, now it makes sense why I loved breastfeeding.
Humans release oxytocin not only when breastfeeding, but at many other times as well. For example, oxytocin is released when people hug, make love, laugh, and gather with friends to name just a few. Cool beans for all mankind, but even cooler beans for women and here is why. 2006 research at UCLA demonstrated that women release oxytocin as part of their stress response. This research shows that in stressful situations, women have an innate tendency to desire peaceful interaction because when stress hits, our bodies immediately produce oxytocin. What's more is as we engage peacefully in a situation, it causes us to release yet greater doses of oxytocin resulting in further calm and providing us with a secret weapon: inner peace.
This response is unique to women, and unfortunately, does not occur in men. Because men also tend to release testosterone when under stress, it cancels out much of the peaceful effect of oxytocin. By contrast, the estrogen present in females, serves to enhance the oxytocin effects.
Knowing this, we, as women, can harness the power of our hormones in remarkably productive ways. We are living in times where women have more opportunities to bring about change and utilizing this knowledge can help create more peace for ourselves, our families and our communities. Now ladies, I must ask, are you feeling empowered yet?
Step 3: Rinse. The rinse step is when we purposefully call upon our peace hormone, oxytocin, during stressful situations and allow it to fill our systems. Just as when we rinse away shampoo from our hair, leaving it freshly clean, the "rinse" step allows the peace innately produced in our female bodies, to cleanse negativity and chaos from our beings. When we get in touch with this naturally occurring internal peace, we can share it with those around us through our love and encouragement. "The rinse" is how I personally created calm in my world. Back then, I appealed to my oxytocin to toss my paddle into the creek, jump ship and swim ashore to a more peaceful and secure place. Nowadays, I appeal to my oxytocin to remain safely ashore, even when life becomes hectic.
Step 4: Repeat. Carrying this on as a central theme in our everyday lives is crucial. Daily, I call upon my desire for peace, as well as my almost magical intrinsic ability, as a woman, to create peace. When I shifted from living in a manner where I seek peace (instead of happiness), my life changed in simple, yet exceptional ways. I became empowered.
Lastly and interestingly enough, I have found happiness to be a fantastic byproduct of my peaceful life.
For more by Fiona Childs, click here.
For more on happiness, click here.