What in the world does grammar have to do with happiness? Well, a lot, actually. In our culture, when it comes to language, we have a strong focus on the nouns and verbs of our lives. We think a lot about the things we need or want, and we talk a lot about what need or want to do. But there is a part of grammar, often forgotten and little talked about, that has a huge impact on our lives, and that’s the adverb. To refresh your memory, an adverb is a word or phrase that describes a verb.
The Incredible Power of Adverbs
Adverbs are extremely important from an emotional health perspective. At the end of the day, we all have the same verbs in our lives. Common verbs include Work. Exercise. Sleep. Cook. Eat. Socialize. Take care of… the list goes on. But what distinguishes us as humans are the adverbs that we apply to those verbs. Do you work frantically or do you work gently? Do you exercise forcefully or do you exercise lovingly? Do you eat shamefully or do you eat with relish? Do you socialize anxiously or do you socialize joyfully? Do you look in the mirror hatefully or with appreciation? Do you look at problems hopelessly or with curiosity? Do you rest wholeheartedly, or do you rest guiltily?
I could go on and on, but you get the idea. The verbs tell us about our outer state, but the adverbs we use reflect our inner state, and our inner state dictates the quality of our life.
Adverbs, in their most extreme form, show how certain verbs can spiral out of control. Someone who is an alcoholic drinks needily or recklessly. Someone who has an eating disorder eats hatefully. Someone who is a workaholic works obsessively. Someone who is an abuser in a relationship loves controllingly. (Yes, that’s not a word, but I didn’t want to ruin the rhythm.) Again, I could go on and on, but at the end of the day, show me a mental health issue and I’ll show you someone using the wrong adverb.
So how do we shift this? By becoming conscious of the adverb we’re using. My suggestion is, if you’re a to-do list writer, spend some time making a coinciding “how-to-do list.” Get groceries easily. Write email lightly. Drop off kids deep-breathingly. (Yes, there’s another made-up word, but you have to admit it’s sort of catchy.) If you’re not a to-do list person, simply write the word “adverb” on a piece of paper and stick it in your pocket for a few days so that every time you stumble upon it, you can ask yourself, for whatever it is you’re doing in that moment, how are you doing it?
For giggles, go ahead and do this exercise now, right in this very moment. How are you reading this post? Are you reading it intensely? Or are you reading it relaxedly? (Okay, I’m getting carried away now.) Are you thinking rigidly or with flexibility? Are you breathing shallowly or softly? Changing our adverbs from driven and hard ones to soothing and loving ones is an excellent way to help shift our emotional state, and it works immediately.