How to increase your happiness? This Positivity Guide is all about happiness. So, get ready to deep dive into the science behind the pursuit of happiness and, perhaps, why you yearn to increase your happiness.
This is not a step-by-step guide to help you become happier with exercises along the way. It is not a collection of motivational quotes, inspirational affirmations, or warm and fuzzy stories. This is solid and practical background information about what it takes to increase happiness in your life.
Increase Your Happiness
The information in the sections below will provide you with the foundation needed to understand how and why exercises and affirmations seem to work. You’ll learn how mood can influence your mental and physical health and how becoming happier can benefit both you and those around you. Happiness is a choice we make one decision at a time.
Of course, you’ll also find some actionable information, like how the foods you eat affect your mood. Having all this information at your fingertips will help you not only understand the concept of happiness better but may map out your own journey towards greater happiness.
You’ll need a little time to read through this Guide and process the information. Come back to it whenever you’re interested or feel down, or need a little motivation and inspiration to work on improving the happiness in your life.
Why Happiness Matters
Tune into the news for a little while and it seems not a day goes by without some sort of disaster striking. Wars, corruption, assaults, politics – you don’t need it spelt out. But the news is a condensed and highly filtered set of information. It doesn’t necessarily reflect our everyday lives.
But in terms of our everyday life, how happy you feel influences all areas of your life, and very often, the lives of others. When you’re in a good mood, you’re motivated to get stuff done. This means that your productivity will go up and work seems more effortless. You also tend to do better work when you’re happily invested in what you do. If you’re in a job you’re happy with, time flies, tasks fly off your desk, and you’re highly motivated to do a good job. If you’re unhappy time drags, you’re involved half-heartedly, and as a result, work takes you longer and you can’t wait for it to be over.
When you’re happy you’re content. So, it’s easier to get through the chores at home, get the shopping done, walk the dog, and so on. Best of all happiness is contagious. By being happy yourself, you’re affecting the mood of everyone around you in a positive way. This in turn will help you stay happier. It’s a positively reinforced happiness loop.
Another reason happiness matters is that being in a good mood makes you more patient. This is important to help with all relationships in your life. You know you are a much better parent, spouse, or coworker when you’re patient. When you’re stressed out and unhappy, it’s easy to snap at someone and hurt their feelings without really meaning to do so. You’re better at explaining, sharing, and being a better listener when you’re happy.
Mood also affects health. On average, happy people have a better immune system and are therefore less likely to get sick. Your good mood will even help you heal faster and recover more quickly from an illness.
To increase your happiness is to have a positive effect on your mind, your body, and those around you. Happiness doesn’t just happen. You have a lot of control over how you feel and how happy you are. Happiness is actually a choice we make day by day, hour by hour, and situation by situation.
In the coming sections of this Positivity Guide on how to increase your happiness, we’ll go over various ways to move you in a positive direction. For now, realize that (a) how you feel matters and that it has a direct impact not just on your life but on that of your loved ones and that (b) you have control over your feelings and can make happiness happen. It’s not always going to be easy, but it’s certainly possible, gets easier with practice and is well within your reach.
Scientifically proven ways to increase happiness
It isn’t easy to measure happiness in a quantifiable way, but over time psychologists and others have discovered some interesting things. For example, happiness isn’t nearly as much determined by circumstance as we might think. I’m sure you’ve had those thoughts:
- If I got that better job and started making more money, I’d be happier
- If I was able to afford a bigger house, I’d be happier
- If I won the lottery, I’d be happy forever
- If I found the right person
The list goes on and on. If only something around me, or about my life changed I’d be happier. That’s the basic idea and it’s how many people think happiness works. We believe we have to change our circumstances to increase happiness.
What we actually know is that happiness is determined by three different factors. Circumstances, Genetics, Thoughts and Actions. But here’s the thing. Circumstances seem to influence about 10% of our happiness. Up to 50% is influenced by genetics (so yes, there really are glass half full and glass half empty people), but around 40% is influenced by our thoughts and actions.
So while there’s not a lot we can do about genetics we actually have a huge amount of personal control over our own personal happiness.
What’s also interesting is that people who have faced and overcome adversity tend to experience the most happiness. When you start to think about it, it makes sense. Sometimes we only really appreciate what we have when it’s under threat or has been lost.
Let’s now consider that 10% of circumstances. Winning the lottery may make you giddy for the moment, but a year down the road, it has almost no effect at all on how happy you feel regardless of how much money you have left in the bank or how many worldly possessions you’ve acquired in the meantime. Similarly, losing a job, a house, or ending a relationship doesn’t influence your happiness a year down the road. In other words, it really isn’t our circumstances that prevent us from being happy. We choose to be happy or sad with our actions and thoughts.
Happiness and Nutrition
At first glance, it may seem that eating certain foods like lots of fresh vegetables, fresh seafood and high-quality chocolate are things that well-to-do people buy in larger numbers. You may therefore be tempted to conclude that the people eating them lead better and happier lives because they have the disposable income to purchase these items. Well, there may be an element of truth in that but what we know is that food choices do influence mood.
Here are a few foods that have been shown to increase mood and happiness. Incorporating them into your diet regularly can have a positive effect over time.
Fruits and Vegetables
We know that fresh fruits and vegetables are good for our health. But did you know that they can also greatly enhance your mood? Fresh fruits and vegetables are our main sources of vitamin C. Not only does vitamin C give your immune system a boost it’s also an important building block for making dopamine, the happiness compound in our body.
They are also full of antioxidants, which play an important role in reducing inflammation in the body. That has a powerful effect on your overall well-being. Eating about five or more servings of fruits and veggies a day will have a noticeable effect on your mood.
Let’s consider some of the food groups in turn:
Nuts – Walnuts in Particular
Nuts and seeds, walnuts in particular include high levels of alpha-linoleic acid (ALA). Low levels of ALA have been associated with low moods and depression. This is in part caused by the fact that low levels of ALA decreases the levels of dopamine in your system. Additionally, low levels of ALA tend to increase inflammation throughout your body which has also been shown to facilitate depression.
Incorporate walnuts, flax, and other nuts and seeds high in ALA in your diet and see if it makes a difference. Since it can take a little while for inflammation to reduce, you can’t expect immediate results. Give it a few weeks and see how you feel.
Clams and Oysters
Clams have very high levels of B12 which is another precursor for dopamine in the body. Low levels of B12 have been shown to cause depression. Oysters on the other hand are a great source of zinc. Low levels of zinc can cause anxiety, while high levels of zinc can help with depression. In other words, now may be a great time to increase your seafood intake and watch the effect it has on your mood.
Coffee is one of the main sources of anti-oxidants in the typical western diet. It has caffeine which, in moderation, will help get you motivated. Coffee will also increase dopamine and serotonin transmission within a few minutes of consumption, helping you feel better right away.
Chocolate contains polyphenols which are mood boosting chemicals. They can help you feel calmer and happier. The darker the chocolate the better the effect.
Yogurt and Kefir
Yogurt and Kefir is an interesting food group. They work by improving bacteria in the gut which in turn has a positive effect on inflammation, digestion, and the immune system. Incorporating them into your diet regularly can have a very positive effect on your mood. Make sure you consume yogurt with live cultures and the less sugar in the yogurt or kefir, the better.
Vitamins B6 & B12
Over time, both of these B vitamins may make you feel better and feel more energized. They are important for the production of dopamine in your system and help in converting food into useable energy for your body. A good complex B vitamin supplement can be a great addition to your diet.
Vitamin C is an important building block for dopamine as well and it gives your immune system a boost. Supplement, particularly in the winter when it’s harder to maintain adequate levels of vitamin C in the body. Of course, eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables will help as well.
Magnesium is an important mineral that can help reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and help with sleep.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
There are two types of omega fatty acids. Omega-3 and Omega-6. In a healthy body, the levels of these two fatty acids will be in balance. In the western world, we tend to consume way too much omega-6 in processed foods. This imbalance has been shown to directly increase the risk and severity of depression. Boosting your omega-3 fatty acids through a supplement or by eating lots of nuts and seeds can reverse this effect.
Foods that Dampen Moods
Cutting out foods that can dampen your mood is another really good idea. Gluten or wheat and sugar are two substances that have been shown to increase inflammation. As previously mentioned, inflammation has been shown to lower our mood and increase our chances of getting depressed.
In addition, most processed foods include these two ingredients along with the omega-6 fatty acids and various other chemicals and ingredients that aren’t great for our health.
One of the best things you can do for your mood is to cut out as much processed food as possible, replacing it with plenty of real food including fresh fruits and vegetables, seeds and nuts, fermented dairy, and seafood. Eat well and you’ll improve both your physical and emotional health and wellbeing.
Happiness and Mental Health
Happiness and mental health go hand in hand. In fact, one of the indicators of mental health can be your level of happiness with your life and the people around you. Do you enjoy being around family and friends? Do you live an active life and have a positive impact on others? Do you like to help out and get great joy from doing things for others?
It’s when we don’t experience this joy and happiness that mental health seems to suffer. At the same time, focusing on happiness and increasing the joy in our lives can help us overcome hard times that have us feeling more depressed and sad than usual. Let’s look at a couple of different areas where happiness and mental health interact.
The Effect Of Stress on Happiness
Let’s start with stress. Things can’t be happiness and sunshine all the time. Where stress becomes an issue is when it is constant, or takes up too much of our life. You don’t want to be stressed out all the time. A little stress here and there to motivate us to get stuff done is good. Constant stress, on the other hand, zaps the happiness out of life. We get anxious, don’t sleep well, and don’t eat well, and as a result get less productive, which causes more stress. Stress also has some adverse effects on our physical health. When we live stressed lives we tend to get sick more often, and our risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke goes up.
Anxieties and Worries
If you are an anxious person or tend to worry about anything and everything, you’re negatively affecting your happiness and mental wellbeing. Yes, there are times when worries are justified. The majority of the time though, worry and anxiety are about things in the future that we have no control over. In those cases worrying about things doesn’t do anything for you. Here’s what you can do instead:
Focus On Contentment
Being content with what we have helps us become happier and worry less. When we aren’t constantly comparing ourselves with others or worrying about things we don’t need to be worrying about, we have more time to relax, enjoy, and be happy. It’s a powerful strategy.
When you’re feeling stressed, worried, and anxious, make an effort to focus on contentment. Stop and smell the roses. Notice how your body and your mind calm down, making room for happiness to return.
Feeling The Blues Or Depressed?
Let’s wrap up this section by addressing depression. While the lines can be a little blurry at times, there is a difference between feeling low and being clinically depressed. Nutrition, exercise, and changing your attitude will all help, but if you are suffering from deep depression, please seek medical advice. There are deep underlying issues, and brain chemical imbalances that you won’t be able to rectify or overcome with by working on increasing your happiness.
Happiness and Physical Health
The most interesting idea here is that being happy, and making an effort to increase happiness can have a very positive effect on your overall health and wellbeing. You probably heard the saying: Laughter is the Best Medicine. It turns out that there is a lot of truth in this statement.
Being happy is good for your heart. People who report that they are happy tend to have lower blood pressure and lower heart rates. Both decrease the risk of heart disease in the long run. Happiness reduces stress which in turn will improve your overall health. Many of today’s most common ailments from high blood pressure and stroke, to stomach problems, are caused directly or indirectly by stress. Increase your happiness, decrease your stress, and live a longer, healthier life.
Being happy, content, and even laughing out loud can be a great way to reduce pain. The next time you have a backache, turn on a funny movie, or simply make yourself laugh and see if it makes you feel better.
Having a positive attitude can do wonders in the recovery process. It helps when people recover from injuries and illnesses alike. That’s why having a good support system of loving people that will come and help raise your spirits is such an important part of the recovery process.
Additionally what we think of as feelings and emotions, are expressed through chemicals, neurotransmitters, and hormones. It makes sense that the same compounds that are created as a result of our mood affect the rest of our bodies.
Happiness for Self
Over the course of the next two sections, we’ll discuss why it is important to take the time to work on happiness- first for yourself and secondly for others. In this first section, we’ll focus on why you should work on happiness for your own sake. In the next, we’ll take a look at how your own happiness can affect others.
Happiness goes hand in hand with self-confidence, accepting your circumstances, and living in the now. This is an important realization you need to have to increase your happiness. It’s not about having everything you’ve ever wanted and being perfect. It’s about living in the moment and being grateful for what you have.
Instead of wishing for a bigger house with more bedrooms. You learn to appreciate the fact that a smaller space brings your family closer together and is a lot quicker to clean. And without the added bills a larger home brings with it, you have more money to spend on different experiences. Instead of investing in a bigger status symbol, you’re investing in making memories that will last a lifetime.
These are just a couple of examples but the real point is there is a big mental component to how happy we feel. We can work on gratitude, thankfulness, and noticing the beauty all around us. We can take action and do good for others. All of these things will help us become happier. But they take work and effort before they become well-ingrained habits. That’s why it is important that you think about and find your own motivation for becoming happier.
Happiness Is Infectious
As you work on your own happiness and on improving those relationships, something else interesting happens. You start to notice that those around you are in a better mood as well. Give it a try. Make an effort to have a happy interaction with people around you and you’ll notice that they can’t help to smile back.
That’s because happiness is infectious and contagious. I’m sure you’ve experienced this yourself. You can’t help but smile when you’re around a young child that’s smiling, laughing, and giggling.
By working on your own level of happiness and being willing to show it with a pretty smile, you’re also spreading that same happiness to those around you. Here is where things get interesting. As you improve the mood of those around you, it bounces back to you, increasing your own levels of happiness. By making a conscious effort to be happier you are creating a self-propelling cycle of positivity that will come back around to help you. That’s a pretty neat concept.
Happiness Is A Choice
We’ve come full circle but it’s an important point and one worth stressing. Happiness is a choice we make. You might have your own definition of happiness but to me, it encompasses different things. If I’m content, reading my book then that’s an aspect of happiness. If I feel fulfilled having baked a cake or planted seeds in the garden, that’s also an aspect of happiness. If on balance, I feel my life is more positive than negative, that works for me too. Laughter is the most overt sign of happiness and that can be achieved in any number of ways, but laughter is just one more component. You can be perfectly happy but not laugh from one week to the next. Relationships that are supportive and/or loving are another aspect of happiness. In other words, happiness is not a single thing. It’s more like a package or bundle of things that leads towards emotional wellbeing.
It would be a weird life indeed if you were never bored, irritated, upset, and so on. But that’s just another aspect of life that we adapt to and learn to accept. There will always be dark times but if the negatives haunt you, then it becomes problematic. That’s why it’s worth stressing the choice element. Identifying the negatives in life and finding alternatives can only work to your advantage. Sometimes it takes a little courage, but it is ultimately down to choice.