We all want to be happy - but do we actively pursue happiness on a daily basis? Usually not.
Most of the time, we just live our lives day by day, hoping that a few big accomplishments will somehow lead to complete and everlasting happiness. Unfortunately, that is not how people become "happy". Even after winning the Super Bowl, a football player who has worked hard his entire life to achieve such a monumental victory will feel happier only for a couple of weeks, and then, his happiness levels will go right back to where they were before. Luckily there are daily habits that have been scientifically proven to make us feel happier. Yes, we can actually do things every day that will make us happier and healthier without it being difficult or too time-consuming. So, what are these mysterious activities you might ask? Read on to discover 5 ways to harness lasting happiness!
Yes, that's right - when you are feeling sad, stressed or anxious - try lifting the corners of your mouth, it's called a smile ;) They say "fake it 'til you make it" for a reason, because it actually works! Forcing a smile actually changes your brain chemistry causing it to release dopamine, which makes us happier. It's one of those "what came first the chicken or the egg" kind of things. That doesn't mean you have to be weird about it - with a fake grin plastered on your face all day but you can use it as a tool to lift your spirits when you're having a down moment.
Gratitude is such a powerful thing. Happiness is mostly a shift in attitude and learning to be grateful for what we have, rather than focusing on the things we don't have. Simply writing down a few things that are good in your life can transform your mood and if done daily - can significantly change your perspective on life. These days especially, it has become more and more easy to feel down because we constantly compare ourselves to people on social media who seem to have perfect lives. It feels like if you don't have a perfect body and a hot partner with whom you're traveling around the world with - for free - you've somehow failed at life. Instead of comparing yourself to manufactured ideals, and striving for what could be - focus on what you do have, and how lucky you are to have it already. Do have your health? Food in the refrigerator? A roof over your head? Friends and family that love you? If so, you are already winning at life.
Be of Service
As human beings, we are deeply connected to one another and the most important element of feeling happy is contributing to our community of fellow humans. How beautiful is that? The perfect harmony of giving and receiving so much in return. You would assume that people who had the most support, love and help would would live the longest and happiest lives but that’s actually wrong! It’s the other way around - those who help their friends, neighbors and communities, tend to live longer and more fulfilled lives. According to studies, the magic number of hours of community service is 2 a week - seems totally doable right? What better way to be happier than to help someone - seems almost too good to be true.
If you follow me on social media or have read some of my previous blogs, you already know that I'm a huge advocate of meditating. If you are new to meditation, I wrote a blog with tips on how to start a daily meditation practice. You might wonder, what are the health benefits of sitting quietly and not doing anything except breathing? It doesn't seem very productive right? Well, proponents claim hundreds of health benefits, both physical and emotional. And by the way, mental and physical health cannot really be separated; they are totally integrated but I will stick to the established and scientifically verified benefits. There is the purely physical aspect of meditation – the settling and slowing down of the breath. The simple act of doing that reduces your blood pressure, reduces catecholamine release, and reduces inflammation. Meditating for 10 minutes a day will literally create new pathways in your brain making it easier for you to feel joy.
Be Physically Active (in Nature)
We have all experienced that "runner's high" after a good workout. It is literally impossible to be in a bad mood after exercising or just being physically active. To quote Elle Woods from Legally Blonde "Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy." To reap the happiness benefits of exercise, you don't need to climb Mt. Everest or run a marathon - start slow with realistic goals like going for a 20 minute walk after dinner or going for a hike once a week. Maybe try a yoga class or salsa dancing. Double up on your happiness potential by being active in nature! Studies have shown that being in nature 30 minutes or more a week can lower blood pressure and combat depression. Another study showed that a group of men and women who took a 90 minute walk in nature reported fewer negative thoughts about themselves than a group who did the same walk in the city. We are deeply connected to nature and benefit tremendously just from being surrounded by it - and even better, being active while soaking in the greenery.
I hope reading this blog already has made you feel a little bit happier. Try finishing up with a big toothy smile :)
Until next time,
~Dr. Alexes Hazen