Some days are light and breezy. You wake up in a good attitude, your hair looks beautiful, and the sun is shining brightly. Other days, you get up, drink all of your coffee, despise your clothing, stub your toe, and wonder how you’re going to get through the day. Take action to lessen the latter and promote the former!
Happiness, like so many other things, must be nurtured and deliberately sought after. Here are eleven techniques to boost your happiness level. Try a couple and see how you feel about them.
Seek mental health care
This is at the top of the list for a reason. We can talk all day about making gratitude lists or exercise, but if your brain chemistry is out of whack, or if you are experiencing a clinical depression or other mental illness, you need medical care. That may be talk therapy, or it may be medication, but getting treatment for a mental malady is just like getting treatment for a physical one. And just like you wouldn’t try to eat fiber or apply sunscreen to heal a broken leg, you shouldn’t suffer with a mood disorder or mental health issue, either, or try to treat it with tactics that can’t work.
INTEGRIS offers free mental health screenings as well as comprehensive services for people of virtually every age. Whatever you’re struggling with, we want to help you find the path back. Learn more here.
Most of us spend one-quarter to one-third of our lives asleep. The amount of sleep we need varies slightly by individual, but the importance of healthy sleep habits is clear. Without enough quality sleep, our minds and bodies just don’t work as well. In the short term, even after one or two terrible nights’ sleep can affect your memory, judgement and reflexes. You’re at greater risk of crashing your car. In the long term, sleep deprivation can cause weight gain, increase your risk of diabetes, elevate your blood pressure and weaken your immune system. Plus it will make you cranky.
There are two types of sleep, rapid eye-movement (REM) and non-REM, and four stages. We cycle through all four cycles multiple times a night.
Stage 1 non-REM sleep is a quick stage, just a few minutes. It takes from you to go from being awake to being asleep. This is relatively light sleep, and your heartbeat, breathing and eye movements slow down in this stage.
During Stage 2 non-REM sleep, things slow down even more as your body prepares to enter deeper sleep. Body temperature cools and movements stop. You spend most of your asleep time in this stage.
Stage 3 non-REM sleep is deep rest. You need Stage 3 sleep to feel refreshed. This is also when your body repairs your bones and tissue.
REM sleep happens several times per night, usually initially after about an hour and a half. You dream during REM sleep. Your eyes move back and forth, but your arms and legs are essentially paralyzed which keeps you from acting out your dreams. REM sleep increases brain activity and promotes learning.
A sleep study is a simple, outpatient procedure that monitors multiple aspects of your sleep and gives your physician critical information required to diagnose and treat sleep disorders. For your convenience, night and day evaluations are offered to meet your busy lifestyle.
Eat plenty of fiber
Want to live longer, maintain a healthy weight, reduce your risk of certain cancers and lower your risk of heart disease? Also, not to be indelicate, but you’ll have better bowel movements. So eat more fiber. There are two kind: soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fiber dissolves in water and turns into a gel inside your colon, where it is digested. The gel blocks some of the fat and cholesterol you’ve eaten from being digested and it slows how fast you digest carbohydrates. That helps keep your blood sugar levels steady. Eating plenty of soluble fiber can also lower the risk of heart disease. Great sources of soluble fiber include black beans, brussel sprouts, asparagus, sweet potatoes, avocados, apples and carrots.
Insoluble fiber does not digest or dissolve, it just cruises through your digestive tract picking, um, material up along the way, which you then eliminate when you poop. Your mom might have called insoluble fiber ‘roughage.’ It keeps you feeling fuller longer, which allows you to eat less. This is also the stuff that helps you avoid or treat constipation, by moving your digestion along. Plenty of insoluble fiber can be found in foods like cauliflower, dark leafy greens like spinach or kale, nuts, peas, pears or lentils.
Even 20 minutes spent outside, in your yard, a park or on a walk, can change your mood for the better. Studies have shown that stepping outside lowers stress, heart rate and blood pressure. It can boost creativity and optimism. Best of all? It’s free, and right outside your door.
Walk, bike, run, swim, play Bocce ball, dance or try some yoga. Get moving and you’ll release feel-good hormones AKA endorphins, which your body will literally make for you any time you ask it to by exercising.
Do something creative
Daily creativity is great for your mood and sense of wellbeing. I’m not saying you have to write the great American novel or paint a mural, although you’re welcome to! Or you could learn to knit, take up cooking, sing a song or doodle a little picture. Gather pretty leaves and make a collage. You get the idea.
Practice a little escapism
Sometimes you just need to tune out and ignore all of the ‘shoulds’ in your life. Turn your to-do list face down and think about something totally different. This is what trashy novels read in the tub, Hallmark movies and escapist podcasts like NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts were made for!
Whether you volunteer regularly or help your elderly neighbor take his trash out, doing for others is a known, studied, powerful way to increase your life satisfaction, boost happiness, find meaning and connect. For a quick boost, write someone a thank-you note or a quick hello, or pay for the coffee of the person in the drive-through line behind you. Kindness is also incredibly contagious! It creates a virtuous circle. Doing good/giving makes us happy, which makes us want to do/give more, which makes us happier.
Pet a dog (or cat)
Interacting with animals can raise our oxytocin levels, calm us down, lower our blood pressure and make us feel loved. Author and animal expert Karen Winegar sums it up beautifully: “The human-animal bond bypasses the intellect and goes straight to the heart and emotions and nurtures us in ways that nothing else can.”
What if I told you that if you commit to meditate 5-10 minutes a day on most days you’ll feel calmer, more focused and happier? Can I guarantee it? No. Almost, though. For the vast majority of people who try it, the practice of meditation works. Meditation requires no equipment and it’s free to all. People notice short-term benefits, including improved circulation, less anxiety and stress, lower blood pressure and blood cortisol levels, increased feelings of well-being and peace… even bliss!
In the short term, cracking up with your bestie or rewatching that hilarious scene can ease tension, release a burst of feel-good hormones, AKA endorphins and stimulate your heart and lungs. In the longer term, laughter can give your immune system a boost. When you’re happy, your body releases stress and illness-fighting neuropeptides.