It might be a simple question, but for many people, happiness feels like an impossible goal to reach. In fact, studies show that only about one in three people consistently identify as “happy.”
If that seems a bit depressing, rest easy. The steps to living a happier life are easier than you think. And no, those steps do not involve winning the lottery. Believe it or not, most lottery winners have the same level of happiness they had before hitting the jackpot. Researchers call this the “hedonic treadmill” in which we repeatedly adjust to a base level of happiness even if our external circumstances change. Crazy right?!
Happiness Comes From Within
The simple truth is that living a happier life starts from within. Becoming happier involves a change in our internal circumstances. That may sound a bit farfetched, but the science of happiness has found consistent patterns in people who live their lives with joy.
And there is a lot of motivation to join those happy people. In addition to making our days more pleasurable, happiness offers many health benefits, including:
A lower heart rate and blood pressure
A stronger immune system
Lower levels of the “stress hormone” cortisol
A better response to pain
The Happiness Checklist
Take a look at this happiness checklist to see the areas of your own life that could provide a happiness boost.
Is your gut happy?
When we say happiness starts from within, we mean it literally. More research is finding that our gut bacteria have a profound influence on our moods. Researchers call this dynamic the “gut-brain-axis.” In simple terms, when our gut is inflamed, we can experience increased levels of anxiety and depression. That is because your gut contains microbes that produce substances that control your mood - serotonin is a good example of a substance that is produced in your gut. In addition, your gut and your brain are connected by a complex network of nerves.
Some dietary changes can improve your gut health and your mood. Focus on high-fiber whole foods, foods with plenty of Omega-3 fats, and fermented foods. (Fermented foods can positively influence your brain activity!)
Are you around other happy people?
You really can catch a good mood. One study found that happiness can go viral. In other words, being around people who are upbeat and feel good about their lives can impact your own happiness levels, The study did not just consider the impact of the moods in your immediate family, but also your neighbors. And being around a happy person can quickly multiply since your own increased happiness can influence those around you. The entire process is not unlike a cold - but much better!
Do you get a regular dose of Vitamin N (for nature)?
Spending time in natural environments boosts happiness levels in several ways. Interestingly, this effect has been shown to be stronger in women than men, and stronger in older adults than their younger counterparts.
Are you balancing movement and rest?
You probably know that exercise releases feel-good endorphins that improve your mood. However, you may not realize that you do not have to make a big commitment to fitness to feel the impact of movement. In fact, endorphins can kick in quickly. One study found that it only takes 20 minutes of walking outside to experience a boost in your mood.
It is important to note that rest is just as important as exercise. Sleep’s effect on our brain helps us to focus on the positive and being sleep-deprived makes us more sensitive to negative emotions. In another study, researchers found that people who do not get enough sleep recall unpleasant memories much more quickly than people getting enough sleep.
Do you help others?
Acts of kindness are another way that happiness spreads. In other words, by making others happy, you can feel happier. Doing something nice for someone else, whether it is donating to charity, volunteering your time, or simply holding the door for an older person, makes us feel better about ourselves. And if you think you are too busy or too stressed to donate your time, consider this: One study found that 78 percent of people who volunteer say it lowers their stress levels. And in another study, people felt happier after buying something for someone else than they did after treating themselves!
Can you forgive?
Forgiving others may ultimately be a kindness to yourself. By forgiveness, we do not necessarily mean letting bad behavior slide or turning into a pushover. Instead, focus on letting go of resentment and anger. Those negative emotions are not helping you, and often can keep you stuck in the past instead of moving forward. And studies show that a more forgiving attitude can lead to multiple physical and emotional benefits.
Are you grateful?
Being grateful for what we have also increases happiness levels. It makes perfect sense if you think about it. For example, if you keep a gratitude journal, you will look for things you are grateful for to record in it throughout the course of your day. Over time, you will find yourself focusing on the positive.
How did you do? Are you interested in improving your happiness levels? As you can see, living life happily requires a holistic approach. If you would like to work together for a happier, more fulfilling life, give us a call and let us do this together. Science and nature are a powerful combination!