Are you leading a happy life?
For most of us, happiness is a feeling we strive for, yet many of us have a hard time defining what happiness actually is, and it may be different to each of us. In her 2007 book, The How of Happiness, psychology researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky defines happiness as “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful and worthwhile.” If we accept this definition, then how do we live a life filled with happiness? More importantly, why should we make more happiness in our life a clear and present goal?
The answer is pretty simple: happiness equates with being healthy. In a 2005 study, researchers found that there is a correlation between happiness and heart health. The happiest participants in the study had lower heart rates and better blood pressure than those who weren’t as happy1.
Research also suggests that happiness may give your immune system a boost as well2. If that isn’t enough to persuade you that happiness is good for you, consider that happiness, in the form of positive effect, also combats stress3… something virtually all of us suffer from. What are some of the things we can do to lead a happier, more positive life?
Although there are many ways to happiness, let’s examine five keys to leading a happy life.
1) Having fulfilling relationships
In 2002, a study at the University of Illinois showed that the students who were extremely happy, with the fewest signs of depression, were the ones that had strong ties to friends and family, and were committed to spending time with them4. In his book, Triumphs of Experience, Harvard psychiatrist, George Vaillant reconfirms this concept by writing, “Relationships are the only things that matter in life. You could have a successful career, money and good physical health, but without supportive, loving relationships, you’d be unhappy. The ability to take in love is a great human skill”.
2) Creating an attitude of gratitude
It’s easy to dwell on what’s wrong with our lives and become focused on negative things. There are bills to pay, traffic to contend with and personal problems can mount up faster than leaves in the gutter. However, what happens when we focus on the good things in life, things that we have and the stuff that is going right? Studies show that gratitude exceeded other traits like forgiveness, patience and self-control in predicting hope and happiness5. Practicing gratitude also increases dopamine and serotonin levels in the brain, which are pivotal neurotransmitters that give us feelings of happiness6.
3) Giving back
An old Chinese proverb states, “If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.” The Chinese aren’t alone in the philosophy that giving back does more for the giver than the receiver. Through the centuries, many have been quoted that is better to give than receive. Science is now finding out that we are happier when we give7. Consequently, despite what many of us think, once our basic needs in life like food and shelter are met, wealth has only a slight effect on our happiness8. In other words, money can’t buy happiness, unless you spend it on others.
4) Hug it out
Hugging, as a sign of welcoming someone and as a gesture of affection, is becoming more commonplace in our society, and that may be a good thing for everyone. Hugging may actually reduce the chance of a person becoming ill9 by effectively conveying social support (see #1 above – relationships matter!). Close contact, such as hugging and hand holding, may also be good for your heart by lowering one’s blood pressure and heart rate10. Hugging may also increase the levels of oxytocin in our body, a chemical associated with happiness and less stress11.
5) Exercise and be fit
Most of us would agree that we feel better after a workout or even a nice stroll. There is evidence that physically active people have much lower risks of developing depression and anxiety than people who are mostly inactive12. Now, studies show that the more we exercise, the happier we may be13. When we exercise, our body releases endorphins, triggering a positive feeling in the body14. This leads to an almost euphoric feeling that is positive and happy. Plus, studies suggest that exercising helps improve the sleep of people with insomnia15. Who wouldn’t be happier if they got a good night’s rest?
Regular exercise also has the benefit of leading to a more positive perception of body image, which leads to more confidence over time16. Of course, the first key to happiness may be to realize that we are in charge of our own happiness. Working on our happiness every day is paramount to achieving a happy life. Use the above keys to get started, then make your own list of what brings you happiness and practice these things daily.
Above all, choose to be happy… and you’re already halfway there.
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S030105110900235X “The New Science of Happiness,” Claudia Wallis, Time Magazine, Jan. 09, 2005