While we are all unique and our circumstances differ, a frequently cited conclusion from research into positive psychology, is that happiness results from a combination of genetics, circumstances, and voluntary activities. Sounds obvious, we agree. According to Univerisity of California, happiness researcher, Sonja Lyubomirsky says life circumstances account for only 10 percent of happiness. Half depends on what she calls a genetic ‘set-point’, while approximately 40% of our happiness depends on what we actually DO to make ourselves happy.
Of course, this doesn’t mean we are destined to be an Eeyore or Tigger and there’s nothing we can do about it – our genes do play a role in our happiness, but the ‘set-point’ is not fixed. The really interesting thing in this research, we feel, is that you can make a difference to your mood and happiness by using ‘happiness strategies’ – small, intentional activities that are easy to put into practice.
So there’s huge scope for getting rid of the ‘bleh’ feeling and improving the way you feel each day. Check out our round-up of things that will put a spring in our step.
The obvious one is exercise: Science has proven that endorphins make you happy, so exercise is a given when it comes to improving your mood. A recent study has shown, however, that just getting up and moving around can have an immediate ‘happy-making’ effect. The study, recorded in Public Library of Science, stated that “The frequency with which people physically move throughout the day, even if that movement is not rigorous exercise, is associated with both physical health and happiness.” So set your timer to go off every 90 minutes and move it on up (and out).
2. Eat yourself happy
Just think about food – the rich textures, the heady aromas – not to mention the taste. Food is full of purely sensory pleasure. Before you consume even one mouthful, just thinking about eating or seeing and smelling your food starts your brain releasing dopamine in anticipation. On top of that, certain foods contain compounds to further improve your mood.
So, if you want to feel as happy as a clam? Try eating clams! They are jam-packed with vitamin B12, as are other seafoods, such as salmon and trout. Why not add oysters to your diet? Oysters, rich in zinc, are one of nature’s natural anti-depressants.
Pack these into your lunch box for a mood boost: Apricots (full of vitamin B6 and anti-oxidants), shitake mushrooms (high in magnesium and selenium), radishes (to stimulate the release of dopamine) and pomegranates (to lower anxiety and depression).
Other mood-enhancing snacks include nuts and seeds, especially walnuts and flax, yoghurt and, of course, coffee and chocolate.
Open all the curtains in the morning. If possible, work next to a window and try to get as much natural light as possible. Get out into the sun (wearing protection, of course) if you can, and NEVER skip outdoor exercise. By the way, exercise doesn’t have to be a 10 km run. A walk in the park or some gardening will have the same effect.
Check out your favourite pictures. At some stage, most of us have spent many happy hours flipping through old photo albums, laughing at old hairstyles and clothes, and feeling all warm and fuzzy remembering good times. Grab a few of the goodies and put them on your computer at work as a screensaver, or even have a few on your desk for an instant mood-lift. Better yet, have your precious pictures printed, so you don’t lose them in a data crash. Put them in an old-school photo album – scrapbooking is very therapeutic.
5. Good deeds
Volunteer to help out for a cause that really speaks to you. There’s nothing like doing a good deed to make you feel good. It’s even as easy as getting to know your neighbours and offering to help with shopping for someone who’s housebound.
Next time someone in your office is showing you some hilarious YouTube video, get up and join in. It might temporarily halt your productivity, but the benefits of having a good laugh (and, of course, you’re also moving around) are huge.
7. Just smile
There’s a fair amount of evidence out there proving that smiling makes you feel happier. Muscular changes in your face, as well as good posture, can elevate your happiness, but people who act happy actually encourage others to react to them in a more positive way. When people are nice to you, you feel good about yourself.
Tidy up your house or office. We’re not talking major spring-cleaning here – although that will also improve your mood. Simply de-cluttering the immediate space around you will ease your mind and reduce anxiety.
Now that you have all this space around you, perhaps add a diffuser or candle with a calming and uplifing scent such as orange or lavender.
10. Why not chop veggies!
Dr, Andrew Weil, a Prevention advisor and leading integrative medicine expert, recommends chopping veggies. After a particularly emotional and stressful day, he goes shopping and spends several hours cooking. He says that there is something about chopping vegetables, making order and eventually creating something wonderful, that successfully neutralises his negative mental state.
And a bonus point…
11. Find your mojo
Due to our personal make-up, we all respond differently to various activities, so it’s important to choose the right ones that work for you.
You might find Lyubomirsky’s Person-Activity Fit Diagnostic questionnaire helpful to find your fit.