What is happiness?
Happiness is subjective. That means people interpret what happiness means in different ways. Mahatma Gandhi for example suggested “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietamese monk, urges us not to mistake excitement for happiness, suggesting instead that “True happiness is based on peace.” The Dalai Lama, on the other hand, describes happiness as something we can control by what we do, saying “Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions.”
There’s no exact science to being happy, and your own happiness is personal to you, but the good news is that research suggests it is possible to become happier with intentional activities (the things we do). And even better, studies suggest that happy, positive people overall tend to be healthier, live longer and may suffer less pain. It’s also well known that stress can be bad for our immune system.
So, taking steps to boost your happiness could help you stay well. That’s more important than ever as we navigate new ways of living during COVID-19 times. Here are 7 simple steps that you can try to improve your happiness.
💡 Of course, there are medical, physical, and spiritual reasons why we might not be happy. These steps are not a substitute for professional care for people dealing with a mental health condition. If you have any concerns about your mental health you should make an appointment to discuss how you're feeling with your GP.
7 steps to cultivate happiness
Counting your blessings is one of the strongest predictors of happiness. This can be easily achieved through keeping a gratitude journal. But don’t overdo it, once or twice a week is enough. Simply write down a few things that you are grateful for. This will remind you of the positive things in your life and draw focus away from the scary stuff.
2. Acts of kindness .
People who volunteer or care for others are happier and less depressed and now more than ever that's what society needs. Caring can involve volunteering as part of an organised group or club, but it can be as simple as reaching out to another person and paying it forward.
Holding on to feelings of resentment only serves to help us re-live those negative experiences which is detrimental to our wellbeing. The decision to forgive others releases us from this cycle. However, like anything else, it takes some work to become good at it.
Nurture your relationships. Happy people devote a lot of time to their friends and family. In return, people who have close friends they can rely on in times of trouble are happier. One way to be a better friend is by showing a genuine interest in what others have to say and responding encouragingly. This is known as active constructive responding and is a powerful way to cultivate positive feelings and nurture your friendships.
Regular exercise is linked with improved mental wellbeing. There is a consistent and positive relationship between exercise and feeling happy. People who work out even a little tend to be more cheerful than those who never exercise. Even simple things like taking a daily walk may help raise your mood.
6. Purpose and flow.
Happy people often show commitment to lifelong goals and ambitions. This could be committing to a hobby or pastime, building a better world or having personally meaningful goals that are worthy of the effort. This sense of purpose can lead to increased levels of happiness. In the same vein, if we are deeply involved in an activity that is challenging but well suited to our skills, we experience a joyful state called “flow”. This is also known as being “in the zone”. Examples include when we are playing sports, teaching or playing an instrument. So perhaps now is the time to take up a new hobby, pick up the instrument gathering dust in the corner or get that job done in the house. Set yourself goals and fully immerse yourself in them.
7. Food and mood
The food we eat can influence how we feel. For example, our brain needs healthy fats like those found in oily fish and nuts to keep working well. Protein is a vital source of amino acids needed to make chemicals in the brain that regulate thoughts and feelings. They are used for example to create hormones and other messengers that regulate blood sugar and satiety. Try to avoid foods which cause blood sugar to rise and fall rapidly, such as sweets, biscuits, sugary drinks, and alcohol and chocolate.
Studies are focusing increasingly on the link between our brain and our microbiome - that’s the community of different bacteria that lives in our gut. It’s worth noting that 90% of serotonin - known as the happy hormone - is found in the gut. So eating foods that support a beneficial and diverse community of microbes - that's proteins, fibre and healthy fats, could be important.
Take control of your happiness
Why not try these steps and see if they make a difference to your mood? There are links to further reading below that could help too.