There's no 98.6° of the mind, no 130 over 85 for mood pressure. And, although the popularity of drugs like Prozac and Zoloft might lead us to believe that brain neurotransmitters can be mixed like a smart martini (one jigger of serotonin, two of dopamine...), so far no one has come up with a cocktail for happiness. Most of us know, however, what it feels like to be emotionally out of whack. Patience rubbed bald, making the slightest irritation unbearable. No energy to care about anyone else's difficulties. A shuttered outlook, leaving you increasingly closed to both pleasure and possibility.
Now is the time to attend to your inner fitness, says LLuminari, O's team of 15 doctors and wellness experts who are coaching us toward greater health. It doesn't take decoding the genome to prove that when you're feeling good about yourself, your body stays in better shape and your general condition is more resilient. "The people who age best are those who have positive things happening in their lives and positive feelings," says Norman Rosenthal, MD, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine and the author of The Emotional Revolution, which details the latest science of emotions and argues that they profoundly affect your health and survival.
Forty to 55 percent of a happy disposition is genetic, studies suggest, but the rest can be learned. It may be helpful to think of emotional balance as mastering a surfboard—honing the ability to take life's gnarliest waves without wiping out, while catching the good ones and riding them all the way to shore, enjoying every last splash. What it takes to stay on the board will vary for each of us. Outwardly, life delivers different ups and downs; inwardly, there are many styles of maintaining equilibrium.
To dive in, the LLuminari experts suggest first giving yourself an emotional checkup, then practicing a few basic mood-stabilizing techniques, and finally determining, if appropriate, when it's time to get help. "Some days are tougher than others," says surgeon Nancy Snyderman, MD, the author of Dr. Nancy Snyderman's Guide to Good Health, "but if you generally love waking up in the morning, you're in a good spot. If you're not, challenge what's amiss and see how you can fix it."
Step 1: Emotional Checkup
Sit down with a calendar and ask yourself how you've been feeling over the past couple of weeks—depressed, anxious, joyful, angry? Do you seem uncharacteristically blue and lethargic? If yes, can you see a good reason for it? The questions may seem obvious, but if you don't ask them, Rosenthal says, "it's easy to shove the problem out of your mind."
Next check your expectations. The big mistake people make is confusing emotional balance with happiness, says Alice Domar, PhD, director of the Mind/Body Center for Women's Health at Boston IVF and the author of Self-Nurture. "The huge number of people on Prozac in this country includes many, I think, who were experiencing life's ups and downs normally but had an expectation of constant happiness," she says. "A normal life means feeling pretty satisfied with the way things are, having some moments of joy and some moments of sadness and anxiety."
Next: 6 ways to find the keys to balance
We Hear You!