6 Things to Make You Happier
Read more from Eric Bakker ND
I have often read that scientists have argued that your happiness is largely determined by genes and your state of health at a particular time, including several other factors mostly outside of your control. My belief is while this maybe true to some extent, your happiness is something you can create on a daily basis. I am a firm believer that you are as happy as you make up your mind to be.
Does money make you happy?
You can decide just how happy you want to be, regardless of your income and state of health. I believe that a large portion of happiness is in our power to change.
Over the years I have seen many patients who were not exactly well off yet remained optimistic and happy with their lives, and met others with vast riches who were miserable, anxious and grumpy people. One young female patient who comes to mind came to see me quite unhappy, tense and angry. She had no reason to be, after all, she and her husband had recently won first division Lotto. You see, the problem was that several of her friends and family wanted to share in her fortune but she was unwilling to part much with her windfall. This brought much so her much unhappiness and misery that she decided to live overseas. Money does not make happy, I have seen this with corporate clients, wealthy property owners and investors. While it is true that money can make your life easier, it can bring about a lot of unforeseen problems and stress as well.
Having enough money to pay the bill to afford a good lifestyle and have a bit leftover for a rainy day is all I aim for. Many people I have seen fall into this category, they are neither rich nor poor. I have found that many with moderate levels of income can feel “as rich” as the very wealthy can by appreciating the little things in life and adopting the five principles below, and in particular, to stop hankering for all those fancy toys that many rich people buy to create a temporary state of happiness.
Does being healthy make you happy?
Whilst great health certainly helps, it is not a prerequisite for happiness. Our clinic has seen many patients with various illnesses who remain happy inspite of their hardships. And what about the patients I have seen in perfect health yet are very unhappy? Again, it is you state of mind which governs your level of happiness.
Recent research by psychologist Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky of the University of California suggests people actually can take charge of their own happiness and boost it through certain practices. In 2009, Dr. Lyubomirsky reviewed 51 studies that tested attempts to increase happiness through different types of positive thinking, and found that these practices significantly enhanced well-being. The results were published in the US Journal of Clinical Psychology.
Dr. Lyubomirsky: "The big question is, can it possible to actually become happier?"
Do hormones make you happy?
Yes – in fact many do! There are several hormones which favourably affect your mood responses, including serotonin and cortisol, the stress hormone. Cortisol in particular, a hormone secreted by the adrenal gland, has a powerful effect on a person’s mood and is depleted under stress. This explains why that when a person is subjected to continual low grade stress and their cortisol level decreases, it remains increasingly difficult to remain positive and in a good mood with depression and anxiety creeping in. The solution is not to let yourself get into a compromised position by understanding stress and its effects on your body. You can read more about stress and adrenal fatigue in some of my previous articles.
Here are six things that research has shown can improve happiness:
1. Be a grateful person
Some study participants were asked to write letters of gratitude to people who had helped them in some way. The study found that these people reported a lasting increase in happiness – over weeks and even months – after implementing the habit. What's even more surprising: Sending the letter is not necessary. Even when people wrote letters but never delivered them to the addressee, they still reported feeling better afterwards. When you think about it, you have a lot to be grateful for in your life. After all, it is a real miracle that you are alive! Be grateful for each and every day, regardless of the weather, your income, or your family life.
2. Be an optimistic person
Another practice that seems to help is optimistic thinking. Study participants were asked to visualise an ideal future – for example, living with a loving and supportive partner, or finding a job that was fulfilling – and describe the image in a journal entry. After doing this for a few weeks, these people too reported increased feelings of well-being. Interestingly, other studies have found a strong correlation between a powerful immune response with optimistic persons, compared to a poor immune response with pessimistic persons. The glass half empty or full, who are you?
3. Count your blessings, you have a lot to be grateful for
People who practice writing down three good things that have happened to them every week show significant boosts in happiness, studies have found. It seems the act of focusing on the positive helps people remember reasons to be glad. Focus on the good things happening in your life, forget about the bad things.
4. Use your strengths, forget your weaknesses
Another study asked people to identify their greatest strengths, and then to try to use these strengths in new ways. For example, someone who says they have a good sense of humour could try telling jokes to lighten up business meetings or cheer up sad friends. This habit, too, seems to heighten happiness. Everybody is strong in one thing, it is good to identify what you are great in and focus your attention to this. You will enjoy doing this and the time will fly. How can you feel sad doing the things you love?
5. Commit random acts of kindness
It turns out that helping others also helps ourselves. People who donate time or money to charity, or who altruistically assist people in need, report real improvements in their own happiness. Do you smile to random strangers? Do you show courtesy on the road to your fellow motorists? Have you paid a visit to an elderly friend or relation in a retirement village who may not receive many visitors? Helping others daily is an act of kindness that gives to the person as much if not more as it gives to you.
6. Find joy in the simplest things in life
This is an important one, that’s why I left it until the last. I aim for tiny bits happiness every day, for example: sitting on my front porch with a nice cup of tea admiring my hanging baskets in bloom, enjoying a late breakfast on a Sunday, curling up in front of the fire with a newspaper or in a warm bed with a book when its raining outside, a nice soak in the bathtub after adding lavender oil, the small of jasmine or roses in springtime, playing with a game with a small child, etc. There are literally hundreds of small moments in your life which bring you joy and pleasure. Write down you favourite moments, you may be surprised how many there are!