We often believe the arrival of certain things—more money, the perfect partner, a better job, a bigger house or a new car—will make us happier…
But Harvard psychologist and author of the New York Times best-selling book, Stumbling On Happiness, Dan Gilbert, says our brains constantly misjudge what really makes us happy. In fact, studies have shown that it’s the little things that make the biggest difference when it comes to how we feel and function. Being happy is actually a lot like exercise—it takes discipline and daily effort—but if you do the work, you reap the rewards. We can strengthen our happiness muscles daily by adopting simple, healthy habits that make us feel better. Happiness is not an emotion that just magically happens. It’s a state of mind you can create. Here are 8 healthy habits to start cultivating your own self-renewable supply:
1. Be Busy, but Not Overwhelmed
Everyone needs a reason to get up in the morning. The Japanese call this “ikigai”. In Hindu, it’s called “dharma”. Knowing our purpose and feeling needed helps us to connect with our communities. But sometimes we say “yes” to doing more than we can manage, with studies showing that people who are time-pressured report feeling less happy. Prioritize things that matter most to you. And, wherever you can, practice saying “no” to the things you say “yes” to out of obligation.
2. Move as Often as You Can
It can sometimes feel like a challenge while you’re doing it, but a runner’s high is real. Exercise releases feel-good neurotransmitters called endorphins that trigger positive feelings and GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) which calms our nervous system. Countless studies have proven that exercise makes us feel better, reduces tension, boosts our energy and improves our body image. Aim for 150 minutes a week or five 30-minute sessions. Or just break it up into 10-minute bursts whenever you can fit it in. Every little bit counts!
3. See Your Friends in Real-Time
Humans are hardwired for social connection. While online likes and followers may flush the reward centre of our brain with the addictive neurochemical, dopamine, connecting with our loved-ones in real-time produces the stress-reducing bonding chemical, oxytocin. Face-to-face conversations (via your online platform of choice) are a powerful mind-body medicine that’s sure to make you feel happier in trying times.
4. Choose Happy Friends
It’s been proven that happiness is contagious. Spending time in the presence of happy people makes us feel happier and increases our likelihood of being happy in the future. You wouldn’t sit next to a smoker and deliberately breathe in their second-hand smoke, so where possible, avoid hanging out with negative people. Make time to FaceTime or Skype with friends who have a positive outlook and bask in the warmth of their sunny disposition.
5. Be Kind and Generous
Studies have shown that when we give to others we produce oxytocin, also known as “a helper’s high”. People who volunteer are happier, healthier and less likely to suffer from depression. One study found spending money on others even makes us feel happier than spending it on ourselves. The father of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, says there are three types of lives: pleasant, engaged and meaningful. While a pleasant, pampered life may sound most appealing, engaging in service to others and doing meaningful work will deliver more lasting happiness.
6. The Link Between Our Food and Mood
The good bacteria that live in our gut produce many of the neurotransmitters that affect our mood, including 80-90% of our happy hormone, serotonin. To make key neurochemicals, we need a diet rich in wholefoods including complex carbohydrates (from whole grains and starchy vegetables), amino acids (mostly from lean protein), antioxidants and phytonutrients (from plant foods), vitamins, minerals such as folate (found in leafy greens and legumes) and essential fatty acids (from oily fish, nuts, extra virgin olive oil and our very own OMEGA ELIXIR).
7. Sleep Yourself Happy
Feeling tired can make us irritable and impatient. Sleep deprivation also increases our stress levels, risk of depression and lowers our libido. Conversely, getting seven to nine hours’ rest a night boosts our immunity, productivity, motivation and memory, as well as helping to stabilise our emotions. One study found that people who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to experience repetitive negative thoughts, while another found that sleep-deprived people are worse at gauging subtle emotions such as happiness or sadness in others, making them harder to get along with them. SLEEP Inner Beauty Support contains both lemon balm and passionflower which are traditionally used in Western herbal medicine to reduce sleeplessness and relieve symptoms of mild anxiety.
8. Practice Gratitude
Keeping a gratitude journal sounds time-consuming but it’s scientifically proven to improve your health. In fact, it’s been shown to lower pain levels, stress hormones and blood pressure, boost motivation and optimism and improve your sleep, moods and life satisfaction. Start by writing down three things you are grateful for each night. Show your gratitude to others by sending them a card or giving them a call to say thank you for the role they’ve played in your life so far.