Health & Wellness -

Ask a Psychologist: "How can I intentionally create happiness?"

According to Dr. Shannon Connery, it's all about balancing your P.A.C.E. 

By Womaness Editors   3-Minute Read

Shannon Connery, PhD for Womaness

Welcome to ASK AN EXPERT, a series where we pose your real questions to our menopause experts for the answers you need. Have a question? Post it on The After Party, our private Facebook Group.


Your Question:

How can I intentionally create real happiness, especially during often-challenging life stages like menopause?


The Answer:

From Shannon Connery, PhD, a professional psychologist with a private practice based in Denver, Colorado: 

“To help you create happiness, I came up with an acronym I call ‘PACE’ that I use with my clients to make it easy to analyze your life. PACE stands for the four aspects of life that need to be balanced: pleasure, accomplishment, connection, and exercise (or any movement). Each one of us has different needs, and you have to find the optimal level of these areas for you. And when your PACE is unbalanced, you tend to be unhappy

Pleasure is funny. It’s one of those things I have to convince people to really pay attention to when we discuss happiness and PACE. I talk about the fact that, as a species, it doesn't make much sense for us to respond to pleasure, at least in an biological sense. Why do we all enjoy a sunset? Evolutionarily, why would we love to watch something beautiful? It makes no sense, except that we are literally wired as a species to enjoy things like creativity, physical touch, seeing beauty, being in nature, all of that. It’s an area that doesn't get cultivated enough for women in our culture. Women's pleasure, like menopause, oftentimes gets ignored.

I work really hard with my clients to find the optimal level of accomplishment. If you are raising kids, the payoff is way down the road, so it’s important to find a way to stay focused but also give yourself credit along the way. People who live in accomplishment need to find more balance and add more of the other three areas. For women without meaningful accomplishment, it’s crucial to find those tasks that give a sense of purpose.


"We are literally wired as a species to enjoy things like creativity, physical touch, seeing beauty, being in nature."


When it comes to connection, obviously everyone knows we need a support system. But that's not really where I go to with creating happiness. It's much more about being aware of your feeling state when you're with the people in your life. Do you cultivate and spend time with the people who inspire you and energize you and give you new ideas and support whatever you're doing? Or is it with people who make you think, 'Oh gosh, when I leave the room, what are they going to say?'

Then exercise or movement. Look, there is nothing on planet earth with more research than how moving your body helps with getting out of depression. This ‘sitting on Zoom all day’ is so counter to what we're supposed to be doing that I literally make some of my clients have jump ropes and music nearby so they spend two minutes an hour just moving to create that space of upping your heart rate and getting those good chemicals.


"If you're a busy woman, try to find activities that combine all four areas of PACE."


There are so many studies about exercise and its direct correlation to happiness, even if it is just walking, or walking with a best girlfriend every night and trying to take those 10,000 steps.

And what the hell, sometimes we get ice cream at the end of those 10,000 steps. So then there's also pleasure. If you're a busy woman, try to find activities that combine all four areas of PACE. For example, I have a group of women I hike with, so I get movement. And since we're thinking and talking about things, I get connection, too.

If you combine the areas, you will have so much more happiness from things like getting 10,000 steps with a girlfriend on the way to ice cream rather than going to a gym alone, sitting on a machine, and just cranking out the calories!" 

Get More Answers 

Ask a Sex Therapist: "Can a vibrator really help my sex drive in menopause?"
Ask a Sleep Expert: "How does better sleep lead to better skin?"
Ask a Doctor: "Why does my brain feel foggy in menopause?"

Disclaimer: This article is intended for informational purposes and is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a physician. Womaness strives to share the knowledge and advice from our network of experts and our own research. We encourage you to make healthcare decisions in partnership with a qualified healthcare professional.