My good friend Asis – and one of my most loyal male readers – sent me a psychology- themed video the other day.

The reason why he sent it was that most of the things discussed by the speaker were things he had read at some point in my blog.

He’s always told me that he doesn’t believe in love and that love doesn’t exist. Interestingly, after watching the video he said I was right about all those love theories I had concocted and written about in my blog.

I always said to him: «It is hard to believe in love and that it indeed exists based on my romantic experiences, but it does exist, and the key is to get the most out of those moments that make us feel special, important and loved – even if they are brief.»

The video was a talk from Spanish psychiatrist Marian Rojas-Estapé in which she mainly talks about the pursuit of happiness and how our emotions – when handled well – are paramount to the successful quest of this sentiment.

Happiness is more than just a feeling and has to do with the meaning we give to our lives.

For Dr. Rojas, the meaning of happiness is «to live the present, having recovered from the wounds of the past and having high hopes for the future.»

We all define happiness differently but the most important thing in order to be happy – according to Dr. Rojas – is to keep our cortisol (the stress hormone) levels low.

In order to accomplish this she recommends five simple things:

  1. Exercise: When we exercise, our body releases chemicals called endorphins. Regular exercise can reduce stress, ward off anxiety and feelings of depression, boost self-esteem and improve sleep.
  2. Avoid toxic people, and hang out with «vitamin» people: Draining, non-supportive, and difficult people are one of life’s greatest challenges. Avoid them and instead, be around people who you enjoy spending time with, who support you, and who you love hanging out with.
  3. Positive thoughts: When you think about something that makes you happy, your brain actually releases endorphins, which give you a generalized feeling of well-being.
  4. Meditation: There are thousands of studies showing that there are psychological and physical benefits to mindfulness meditation, which treats the whole person, and that includes their mental and emotional well-being.
  5. Omega 3: Studies indicate that people who consume Omega-3s are less likely to be depressed.

Dr. Rojas mentions that some diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease, fibromyalgia, and even cancer can be caused by high levels of cortisol.

As implausible as it sounds, I sometimes wonder if cortisol was actually the cause of my breast cancer.

At the time of my diagnosis, I had an apparent «perfect» life. I was married to a nice guy who made a good living, I was working, we owned a house, we traveled often, we had no major debt, we had «good» friends…

Remembering that time and gathering the information from the video, makes me wonder if being with someone who wasn’t right for me for such a long time caused me unnecessary stress that got me sick.

This thought has always haunted me. I had no family history, I was young, I tested negative for genetic mutations, I ate well, I exercised regularly, I never smoked, I was never on birth control, I kept a healthy weight…

Then what happened? Was my cancer a fluke? Or was it indeed caused by the toxicity of a wrong partner?

After breast cancer, I knew that life could be taken away from me (or anyone else) at any time.

Surviving breast cancer for me was a new beginning, an awakening, a rebirth…

I learned that I needed to be with someone who could share my joie de vivre, my nonsense, my laughter for silly things and my essence, and at the time I began to think my ex-husband did not appreciate who I really was, and I was not willing to pretend to be something I wasn’t.

“I didn’t survive to have an existence where I didn’t feel like I was living at all.”

After my divorce I felt lighter and, in time, I healed. I made it a personal credo to not spend time with people who didn’t appreciate me and drained every ounce of energy out of me.

To conclude her talk, Dr. Rojas talks about seven items which will definitely help to lower cortisol.

She believes that one can «learn» to be happy, and how low levels of cortisol definitely lead to happier people:

  1. Know yourself: If you don’t know yourself well you will never be able to become a better person.
  2. Avoid auto-boycott: Living is taking risks, is launching the opportunities because only then it is possible to break free and be happy. Allow yourself to fail, perfectionists tend to live with high levels of cortisol.
  3. Have goals and objectives: Keep your goals and objectives small, and these will lead to big goals.
  4. Work on your goodwill: A person with a positive goodwill will be more successful than a smart person.
  5. Be bold: Say yes when you want to say yes and say no when you want to say no.
  6. Emotional intelligence: Be capable to understand and express your emotions.
  7. Be optimistic: Optimism is key in the pursuit of happiness.

I encourage you to watch the video. It is very insightful and Dr. Rojas is very knowledgeable and engaging.

It makes me feel good about all the research and effort I’ve done in the last 2-3 years to ultimately reach that better version of myself.

I am aware of all the work I still need to do to «find» myself in a happier place, but I’ve done great strides in getting to know myself better, be more assertive, weed out toxic people, exercise regularly, and have positive thoughts every day.