What makes life good? What habits can enhance your day, week, month, and/or year? Are there any changes we can make that can benefit our mental, emotional, and physical well-being?
Happiness, Well-being, Feeling good
What happiness means or what happiness entails can be influenced by geographical region, socioeconomic circumstances, level of health or access to health, level of autonomy, level/type of freedom and democracy, and the environmental, political, economic, and psychological conditions of a human being. Of course, there are intrinsic elements as well. The discussion of happiness or what makes life or a person happier is a consistent theme in the personal development and personal growth world. Happiness has also been significantly studied and discussed through philosophical, economic, psychological, and sociological analysis (Greve).
Some ideas about what happiness means:
1) “the degree to which an individual judges the overall quality of [her/his] life favorably” (Ruut Veenhoven).
2) “Happiness (or flourishing or living well) is a complete and sufficient good. This implies (a) that it is desired for itself, (b) that it is not desired for the sake of anything else, (c) that it satisfies all desire and has no evil mixed in with it, and (d) that it is stable.” – Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics (University of Notre Dame)
3) “Maybe the truth is, there’s a little bit of loser in all of us. Being happy isn’t having everything in your life be perfect. Maybe it’s about stringing together all the little things.” –Ann Brashares
4) “Happiness is the art of never holding in your mind the memory of any unpleasant thing that has passed.”—Unknown
5) “There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.” –Epicurus
6) “When one door of happiness closes, another opens, but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one that has been opened for us.” –Helen Keller
7) “When we fulfill our function, which is to truly love ourselves and share love with others, then true happiness sets in.”—Grabrielle Bernstein
Great quotes, but what does research say about happiness?
This article will discuss some evidence-based ideas/tips that can increase the likelihood of joy, happiness, and/or well-being in your life. It’s important to note that happiness is truly “subjective well-being” (Rasmussen and Laumann). Most people (or everyone) will have an entirely different definition of what happiness means to them or what brings joy into their life. Still, let’s discuss a few ideas on what can make life better and/or bring more joy to life which can increase the likelihood of your “subjective well-being”.
Mood is an integral part of happiness and it plays a role in our behavior and well-being. Scientific research has demonstrated the benefits of having a “positive mood” on a our emotional state and day-to-day performance as well as its influence on “memory, attention, experience of self, altruism, decision-making, creativity, aggression, interpersonal relationships and job satisfaction” (Rasmussen and Laumann).
Scientific literature has shown the important relationship between exercise and mood – Exercise improves sleep, lowers blood pressure, releases the body’s natural painkiller called endorphins, and physical activity releases “proteins called neurotrophic or growth factors, which cause nerve cells to grow and make new connections. The improvement in brain function makes you feel better” (Harvard Heath). Neuroscientists have also confirmed that exercising can benefit mood by helping the hippocampus (area of the brain which regulates mood) through supporting cell growth as well as enhancing its nerve cell connections which has been shown to significantly enhance mood and reduce symptoms of depression (Harvard Health).
MEDITATE and BREATHE
Take a deep breath right now: breathe in through your nose while letting your belly expand like a balloon, hold for 1-2 seconds, then release your breath through your mouth while letting your belly deflate:
Breathing is a powerful way to trigger relaxation in the mind and body. Meditation is a great way to use your breath consciously which can be done virtually everywhere. Meditation involves conscious breathing which is “being mindful of the breath and controlling the breath through the use of numerous breathing techniques” (Heath). Conscious breathing and meditation have existed for thousands of years and both can alleviate “anxiety, pain, and depression” (Harvard Health Publishing).
Daily practice of meditation and/or conscious breathing will help your mind/body begin the relaxation response which helps mood and overall well-being, thus practicing meditation and conscious breathing will increase the likelihood of happiness and better performance at work/life, and better mood in relationships/life. Like anything – practice practice practice! Even 5 minutes in the morning, afternoon, or before bed is beneficial. There is growing research on how meditation and conscious breathing can help insomnia and improve sleep and adequate sleep can enhance your subjective well-being in life, work, and relationships.
Here are some Mindfulness Activities & Guided Meditation ideas: https://www.counseling.iastate.edu/mind-body/mind-body-spa
Life can be tough, and many people may deal with a variety of life challenges that can suck the joy and fun out of life. Suddenly, fun becomes a distant memory. There is no better time than the present to make the decision to bring more joy and fun into your life. No need to be fussy or make the activity too complex. You can start right now!
Day-Day Joyful Activities
There are many laboratory-based studies and analysis in clinical psychology when it comes to reward functioning in depression –but getting a reward inside of a laboratory to see its impact on mood does not translate to real-life, thus it is important to see the literature on joy and its impact on the day-to-day. A study in 2017 confirmed that people with depressive symptoms experienced improvements in mood when they anticipated and experienced uplifting events: “Consistent with previous data, we found that people with higher levels of depression are less likely to anticipate that tomorrow will include positive experiences. However, when they do have moments of anticipating positive next-day experiences, it’s linked to reductions in daily depressive symptoms.” (Starr and Hershenberg).
Here are some practical ideas to bring more joy into your life:
1) Escape Room: a fun activity that brings everyone together and will for sure bring fun and joy into your life. These rooms consist of puzzles that need to be solved in order to escape the room, and the experience is great for team building, making happy/fun memories, and great for stress relief.
Escape rooms in Guelph:
2) LAUGH: search for funny videos on YouTube, watch a comedy movie, read jokes, do laughing yoga, start laughing for no reason with a friend or by yourself and try to see how long you can do it — simply find a way to laugh more!
Have you ever seen someone laugh so hard they fall off of their chair or felt overwhelmed by the joy in their body that they ask to have a break from laughing to regain control? That’s because laughter causes loss of muscle control! The muscle that separates our abdominal cavity from our chest cavity is the diaphragm, and according to Michigan State University the diaphragm is the only muscle connected to other muscles, thus when we laugh “our diaphragm convulsively pulls on our side muscles and shakes up our stomach and other vital organs. We get an internal massage, which leaves our organs invigorated, juicy, pumped-up and alert.” (Abram). Laughter also exercises our respiratory system, and overall, laughter alleviates stress much like exercise (Abram).
In order to laugh more you need to open yourself up to the possibility of laughter in everyday things. Corny jokes, fail videos, cat/dog videos, comedian videos all available for free on YouTube, going to a comedy club, finding or embracing a funny friend, laughing for no reason at all but simply to feel laughter in your body –do whatever it takes to bring more laughter into your life!
Try Laughter Yoga in Ontario: http://laughterontario.ca/
3) Gratitude Focus: in the morning, or during the day, or before bed, take a moment and think of all the good things in your life. No matter what you are going through, you have something to be grateful for, even 1 good thing. Start shifting your perspective on the people, privledges, things, and situations in your life that make your life good: having hands/feet/legs, being able to breathe, having access to freedom in a democratic country, having family, your ability to survive, your pets, having access to food and running water, or even being able to see– all of these things are worthy of feeling grateful.
Here is a video by Louie Schwartzberg on gratitude:
All in all: Exercise, Meditation & breathing, and Having fun are great ways to increase the likelihood of happiness and better performance in your life.
BUT: it all depends on what makes you happy, and choosing to engage in those activities on a daily or weekly basis can benefit your life.
Life choices and Happiness: https://research.cornell.edu/news-features/life-choices-and-happiness
12: Steps to Happiness: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/sonja_lyubomirskys_happiness_habits
Happiness for a Lifetime: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/happiness_for_a_lifetime
Abram, Tracie. “Laughter Has Serious Benefits.” MSU Extension, Michigan State University, 1 June 2018, www.canr.msu.edu/news/laughter_has_serious_benefits.
Corliss, Julie. “Mindfulness Meditation Helps Fight Insomnia, Improves Sleep.” Harvard Health Blog, Harvard University, 18 Mar. 2019, www.health.harvard.edu/blog/mindfulness-meditation-helps-fight-insomnia-improves-sleep-201502187726.
Greve, Bent. Happiness. Routledge, 2012.
Harvard Health Publishing. “What Meditation Can Do for Your Mind, Mood, and Health.” Harvard Women’s Health Watch, Harvard University, July 2014, www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/what-meditation-can-do-for-your-mind-mood-and-health-.
Harvard Health. “Exercise is an All-natural Treatment to Fight Depression.” Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard University, 2 May 2018, www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/exercise-is-an-all-natural-treatment-to-fight-depression.
Heath, Amy, et al. “Effects of a Conscious Breathing Intervention on Emotion and Energy Flow.” Master of Arts in Holistic Health Studies Research Papers, Sept. 2015.
Rasmussen, Martin, and Karin Laumann. “The role of exercise during adolescence on adult happiness and mood.” Leisure Studies, vol. 33, no. 4, 2013, pp. 341-356.
Starr, Lisa R., and Rachel Hershenberg. “Depressive Symptoms and the Anticipation and Experience of Uplifting Events in Everyday Life.” Journal of Clinical Psychology, vol. 73, no. 10, 2017, pp. 1442-1461, Wiley Online Library.
University of Notre Dame. “Notes on Nicomachean Ethics.” University of Notre Dame, 2019, www3.nd.edu/~afreddos/courses/180/nicomach.htm.