Top 5: Ways to be Happy
Happy Friday everyone! I hope you have some fabulous plans for this weekend. Personally, I’m running a half-marathon on Sunday. Wish me luck! 🙂
Ever since I read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin (a great book I highly recommend) I’ve been a bit obsessed with the idea of happiness. It’s one of those things we talk about all the time, reference, mention, but never really understand. It’s a bit elusive; like other “big idea” topics such as love, freedom, respect, etc. And it’s always something we want more of, but seeing as there isn’t a ten step program out there for it, we tend more to run in circles. We work harder, earn more money, buy more stuff, and try to be the perfect husband/wife/mom/dad, while cooking 5 star dinners very night, while having the body of Heidi Klum or Hugh Jackman. And then we’re happy… right?
The other reason I’ve been a bit obsessed with this topic is because I have struggled… do struggle, with depression. It’s been something I’ve struggled with since roughly puberty and I’ve tried everything from therapy to drugs to holistic treatments. And it’s rough. Wondering what the heck is wrong with you. Never wanting to be around others, to do anything, and to feel the world crushing you from all sides. Rough is putting it mildly. Going through that, feeling like there is no way out, is really really really hard.
Now let me just say this; depression is not the opposite of happy. I am not, nor will I ever be touting treatments for depression. There is a huge difference between not happy, and being depressed. But with saying that, dealing with depression has still made the idea of “happiness” on the forefront of my mind for some time. It intrigues me.
And so I’ve been reading (as you’ll come to realize I do a lot of 🙂 ) and using myself as a bit of a guinea pig. And I have discovered several lifestyle changes that have helped to improve my happiness and general well-being; and I hope they can do the same for you.
Drum roll please….:)
Here they are, the Top 5 Ways to be Happy
1. Exercise regularly
Exercise has been proven time and time again to improve our moods. It’s been known for years that an elevated mood following exercise is caused by endorphins (runner’s high anyone!?!) but recently a study has been published showing that exercise not only improves mood in the short term (ie. right after the workout) but also is capable of increasing an individuals happiness over periods of years. And on top of that, the study showed that when individuals decrease their activity, their overall happiness decreases as well. Crazy right? It also doesn’t help that exercise reduces stress, improves sleep, improves self esteem, and makes you stronger physically and mentally. Way to go exercise! You rock!
2. Get a full night’s sleep
Now since you’ve all gone out and exercised after all that awesome information above, you’re probably ready for a nap. Right? Oh good, cause sleep is super awesome for happiness too; that is, a full night’s sleep. Now be honest, who out there actually gets 8 or more hours of sleep every night? Well seeing as most American adults out there very rarely hit that magical 8 hours, I would say, very few of you. Which is actually pretty bad. Sleep has been shown to improve cognitive function, motor function, stress levels, metabolism, as well as mood and a host of other things. And it’s free and easy. The best thing you can do for yourself is to set a bed time. I know it sounds silly, but our bodies work best when we are on a schedule. So here’s what you do. Figure out when you need to wake. Count backwards 8 hours + 15 minutes (average time it takes to fall asleep). Then 1 hour before that, turn off the tv and your phone, brush your teeth, do your 10 minutes of stretching, drink some tea (no caffeine), journal, take a bath, pray, meditate, whatever you need to do to wind down. Then at your bed time, turn of the lights, kiss your hunny, and go to sleep. Set up a routine for yourself. After a week or two you’ll start to get sleepy the moment you start your routine. Just like with kids. As a bonus, once you start really getting into this routine, you will find yourself more energized when you wake, and throughout the whole day. Fabulous!!
3. Eat whole foods
There is this great book out called The Happiness Diet by Graham and Ramsey that is AMAZING! It was really one of the first books I read that really changed my mind on how I was fueling my body. It’s all about how our Modern American Diet (M.A.D.) was not only messing with our waistlines, but also with our brains. It’s a bit more “scientific” than I’m able to explain, but the general premise is that our modern diet full of processed, chemical laden food is changing our brain chemistry and increase our rates of depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. What they recommended was a similar diet to what I have prescribed, or as the great Michael Pollan says, “Eat food (he means real, whole food), mostly plants, and not too much.”. The philosophy isn’t complicated and it has huge ramifications on our physical and mental health.
4. Practice Gratitude
One of the greatest, simplest ways to increase happiness is to practice gratitude. Finding and recognizing the positives in your life causes you to appreciate what you have and gives you perspective when challenges occur. It doesn’t need to be anything elaborate; either during a prayer or meditation time, or you can write it down when you journal; but find 1 thing you are thankful for every day. Every day. There is good in the world if we are willing to find it. We are surrounded by reports and stories of evil, murder, destruction; but by shedding light on the good, the positive, it increases our well being, our general happiness about our circumstances, and I feel, creates more good in the world. Just imagine if everyone did this.
5. Focus on relationships
There is a fabulous study done by Harvard researchers over 75 years called the Harvard Grant Study. It followed 268 men over almost their entire lives from their college years into their 90’s. The purpose of the study was to discover the secrets to a happy and purposeful life. What it found? That no matter the circumstances, how much money you have, how successful you are; the greatest key to feeling fulfilled and happy with your life is being connected with others. Relationships are the key to building a life worth living. You don’t need to go on elaborate vacations to spend time quality time with your family. Just being together, being open and honest, and building trust, creates a connection, a bond that will enable you to live a fulfilled and happy life. What exactly does that look like? Make date nights a priority with your hunny. Spend week nights around the dinner table (with no phones or tvs!) discussing your day with your family. Join a book club, a bible study, a knitting group, a boot camp, a yoga class. Create opportunities to connect with others. Connection creates support. And when we feel supported, respected, and loved; we are happy.
What makes you happy?
Love and joy,