It might seem like a simple question, but for many people, happiness feels like an impossible goal. 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 easy. And no, those steps don’t involve winning the lottery. Believe it or not, most lottery winners have the same level of happiness as they had before hitting the jackpot. Researchers call this the “hedonic treadmill” or “hedonic adaptation”. What it means is that no matter what happens to us, we repeatedly return to a baseline level of happiness. This occurs whether there are positive or negative changes to our circumstances. Crazy right?!
What is Happiness?
Happiness is defined as feeling a sense of joy, well-being, or contentment.
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 far fetched, but the science of happiness has found consistent patterns in people who live their lives with joy.
What are the Health Benefits of Happiness?
There’s a lot of motivation to become a happy person. In addition to making our days more pleasurable, happiness offers many health benefits, including:
- Better cardiovascular health through lowering your heart rate and blood pressure
- Strengthening your immune system
- Lower levels of the “stress hormone” cortisol
- A better response to pain
What Makes People Happy?
Research shows that predictors of happiness and well-being include having high-quality social interaction, enjoying a better standard of living, and being satisfied with one’s own health.
Interestingly, a study on whether people equate happiness with social connections like friends, family and love, found that people with lower financial resources do so more than people with greater financial resources.
Another study analysed the association between household income and tendencies to experience 7 positive emotions that are central to happiness: amusement, awe, compassion, contentment, enthusiasm, love, and pride. This study confirmed previous ones showing that income contributes to patterns of attending to oneself versus orienting to others. Higher income was associated with greater feelings of contentment and pride, and with greater amusement. Lower income was associated with more other-oriented feelings of compassion and love, and with greater awe.
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 healthy and happy?
- Are you surrounded by happy people?
- Are you connected with nature?
- How is your exercise?
- Do you get enough rest?
- Do you volunteer to help others?
- Can you forgive?
- Do you practice gratitude?
Is your gut healthy and 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 experience increased levels of anxiety and depression. That’s because your gut contains microbes that produce substances that control your mood like serotonin. Serotonin is a chemical called a neurotransmitter that helps us to feel happy. More serotonin is produced in your gut than anywhere else in your body, including in your brain. In addition, your gut and your brain are connected by a complex network of nerves. Inflammation in your gut means a great deal of stimulus being sent directly to your brain. It can make it difficult to relax, feel calm and sleep.
Diet Changes for Gut Health and Your Mood
What can you eat to feel happier? Try these 3 steps:
- Focus on high-fiber whole foods (broccoli, kale unprocessed grains)
- Eat foods with plenty of Omega-3 fats (fish)
- Enjoy fermented foods (yogourt, kefir, kim chi, sauerkraut). 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 didn’t just consider the impact of your immediate family’s moods. It also took into account your neighbour’s moods. And being around a happy person has a domino effect. Your own increased happiness then influences those around you, and so on. The whole process is not unlike transmitting a cold – but much healthier!
This viral transmission of happiness may stem from the fact that even if you don’t feel happy, if you force yourself to smile, you will feel happier. Smiling back at those happy people can’t help but make you feel happy.
Positivity breeds positivity!
Do you get a regular dose of Vitamin N (for Nature)?
Spending time in natural environments boosts happiness levels in several ways. In one study, those who were more connected to nature had:
- a more positive mood
- greater vitality, and
- increased life satisfaction
Nature enhances healing and enables growth. Interestingly, the effects of nature are stronger in women than men, and stronger in older adults than their younger counterparts.
Are you moving enough?
You probably know that exercise triggers the release of the feel-good endorphins that improve your mood. However, you may not realize that you don’t have to make a big investment in fitness to reap the benefits. 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. Exercising outside versus inside, also helps to lower the stress hormone cortisol. High levels of cortisol have been linked to major depression.
Do you get enough rest?
It’s important to note that rest is just as important as exercise. Adequate sleep’s effect on our brain is to help us to focus on the positive. Being sleep-deprived makes us more sensitive to negative emotions. In another study, researchers found that people who don’t 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 feel happier. Doing something nice for someone else, whether it’s donating to charity, volunteering your time, or simply holding the door for another person, makes us feel better about ourselves. And if you think you’re 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 don’t 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. They often keep you stuck in the past instead of moving forward. And studies show that a more forgiving attitude leads to multiple physical and emotional benefits.
Are you grateful?
Gratitude 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’re grateful for to record in it throughout the course of your day. Over time, you’ll find yourself focusing on the positive.
How Can an ND Help with Happiness?
Our naturopathic doctors help people feel happier by:
- Balancing hormones. Healthy hormone balance is crucial to having a healthy mood.
- Helping you maintain a healthy gut. We are gut health experts. We can balance your microbiome and fix issues like IBS, leaky gut, Candida, SIBO, Crohn’s and colitis.
- Lifestyle counselling. Getting you on track with exercise, eating right, sleeping properly and spending time in nature helps you maintain a positive mind-set.
- Helping you achieve your health goals. Whatever your health goals are, we help set out a plan to take you there.
How Can a Psychotherapist Help with Happiness?
If you are feeling stuck, making a change, going through a life transition, having guidance and support can make all the difference. A psychotherapist gives you the tools you need to navigate difficult times successfully.
How Can a Massage Therapist, Osteopath, Acupuncturist or Chiropractor help with Happiness?
Well, if you are living with chronic pain, your mood will be negatively affected. In fact, that’s one of the causes of depression. Non-pharmaceutical pain relief from massage therapy, osteopathy or chiropractic does wonders for mood.
How did you do on the checklist? Are you interested in improving your happiness levels? As you can see, living life happily requires a holistic approach. If you’d like to work together for a happier, more fulfilling life, give us a call and let’s do this together. Science and nature are a powerful combination! Call 416-481-0222 to get started today.
5 Best Happiness Quotes
“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
― Dr. Seuss
“For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.”
― Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land
“Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.”
― Abraham Lincoln