Increasing happiness may be easier than you think.
Happiness is what we all want but it can seem like some people have won the happiness lottery while the rest of us are destined to live our lives enduring the drudgeries of day-to-day life while just keeping our heads above water. We are not millionaires, our houses are not clean like the ones on Instagram, and our children are wild creatures who do not sit still. We have bills due today and anxiety about how to pay bills 20 years from now after retirement. Happiness seems elusive. Is it even worth trying to achieve? Of course, but first, we must stop thinking in terms of “happily ever after” being when things are finally perfect and we have achieved all that we set out to in life and realize happiness is
actually a way of life.
"It is only possible to live happily ever after on a daily basis.”—Margaret Bonanno
The words “self-care” often conjure images of “ladies who lunch” spending an entire afternoon at some luxurious spa getting massages- but this is not self-care. Men and women need to take care of themselves. We’ve all been there or heard someone else profusely apologize for a toddler's misbehavior. The little one has not eaten lunch or, God forbid, missed their nap. We all know this is a recipe for disaster in a day of the life of a toddler, but what about us adults? Are your basic needs being met? Nutrition, water, and sleep are not just for toddlers. “A growing body of literature shows that the gut microbiome plays a shaping role in a variety of psychiatric disorders, including major depressive disorder,” a team of scientists wrote in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry in 2020. Simply put, a healthy diet equals a healthy gut. A healthy gut produces serotonin and dopamine which are the neurotransmitters telling your brain to be happy. That’s how powerful nutrition can be.
Connecting to Nature
At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, much research was done to monitor mental health as humankind suffered not only the effects of the disease but also the ramifications on mental health due to endless lockdowns and increased fear of the unknown. Multiple sources now report that spending time in nature proved to be one of the best coping mechanisms used. Mental Health Foundation UK wrote in a report earlier this year, “Research shows that people who are more connected with nature are usually happier in life and more likely to report feeling their lives are worthwhile. Nature can generate many positive emotions, such as calmness, joy, and creativity, and can facilitate concentration.” Even before the pandemic, research showed that spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature increased overall happiness and well-being as published in a journal by Scientific Reports in 2019. If 120 minutes is too much, even a few minutes is enough to boost your mood. Going for a long hike in the forest may not be possible but consider having your morning coffee on the balcony surrounded by house plants. Take your dog for a walk in a green space. Open your bedroom blinds and let the sunshine radiate on your skin taking in your daily dose of vitamin D.
Take a Break from Social Media
Keeping up with the Joneses, or whomever your next-door neighbors are, is outdated. Now the benchmark for how much and what we should own and our social standing in society is measured by the lives of those we see on social media, whether we know them personally or they're an influencer. It makes sense that discontentment in our lives would be at an all-time high when we see people who appear to be unemployed on social media somehow affording and flaunting their haute couture handbags and gourmet meals in fancy restaurants. This can quickly lead to resenting our own, more simple, lives. We tell ourselves we know not everything we see online is reality but after an hour of scrolling and being bombarded with the message that we don’t measure up, we feel our mood take a downturn. The effect lingers. A Pew Report showed data stating that 64 percent of adults in the U.S. believe social media has a mostly negative impact on life in America, however, they don’t disconnect from it. Consider the quote from President Theodor Roosevelt, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”
Gratitude Journaling or Listing
The International Journal of Depression and Anxiety published research in 2021 showing “Individuals who experience more gratitude have lower levels of depression”. This suggests that keeping things in perspective can be key to enduring the more difficult times in life. If you don’t want to write them down, say they are allowed. Families can also benefit from this activity as it shows children how to do the same. It’s a powerful reminder to be happy and live in the present.
Giving in Charity
Are humans biologically wired for generosity? Numerous studies have shown the answer is: yes! Brain scan technology has even shown the reward center of the brain being activated the same in someone giving charity as in someone doing any number of other pleasurable things, such as eating food, having physical contact with a loved one, or receiving money. Charity doesn't have to just be monetary. Consider how refreshing it is to declutter your home and give away items you no longer need. You can also give your time to charity by simply lending an empathetic ear to a friend in need. Perhaps you can give charity in the form of a smile to a stranger you pass on the street or the cashier ringing up your groceries who inevitably will be greeted with scowls and harsh words at some point in the day. Your smile would be so uplifting which will in turn uplift you yourself. Of course, never forget how giving money to a reputable charitable organization is a way to spread happiness to others far and wide. When you give to LIFE, you can watch as the needs are finally met for so many people struggling around the world. You can find happiness in the school child excitedly attending school for the first time with the possibility of finally breaking the curse of generational poverty or think of the young girl who was destined for a life on the streets but is now in the safe arms of an orphanage who will see that she is nourished, clean, and attending school. Your list of gratitude will grow longer as you consider how so many people around the world are forced to live with the burden of heavy need due to circumstances outside of their control. Your happiness will increase knowing that you are a part of the solution.