“Happiness not only feels good, but research has found that it is associated with superior mental and physical health.”
Many people think that happiness is something that we will find one day, like when we win the lottery, or meet our soulmates, yet research teaches us that happiness is actually something we can create daily. And the same goes for health—with our busy schedules it can be hard to prioritize healthy behaviours when our “to-do” list is being filled with work responsibilities, events, family commitments, and more. And yet, focussing on our health and happiness is essential in order to have energy every day, to be the best friend and partner, and to live our best life possible.
Prioritizing health and happiness isn’t just becoming essential on a personal level, but recently several countries (including Canada) have started to include national happiness, along with health, as indicators of national progress. Happiness not only feels good, but research has found that it is associated with superior mental and physical health. Happiness and health are also linked to greater career success, improved relationships, enhanced creativity, and longevity.
Although some people may have been born with bigger smiles than others, the truth is that with practice anyone can improve both their happiness and health. There are key behaviours that can help you unlock more happiness and health in your life, such as the following.
Unlock your happiness
1. Shift your focus
One of the simplest ways to boost your happiness and mental health is to shift what you are focussing on because what you focus on is what you tend to notice in your life. If you’re always focussed on the things that upset or frustrate you, then that is often what will influence your perception of reality. By noticing and focussing on the things that make you feel happy, you can train your brain to become more skilled at noticing and acknowledging happy things.
Try making a habit of looking around and noticing the good, or the things that make you feel happy that are already around you. This practice is especially potent if you can focus on the “small” things such as the kind stranger who opened a door for you or a compliment that someone gave you.
2. Make progress towards your goals
It feels good when you reach a goal, especially when you’ve been working towards it for a long time. Research shows that when you feel like you are progressing towards a goal it has a positive impact on your health and happiness, even if you haven’t reached your goal yet. The journey, not just the destination has a significant impact on your health and happiness (and the journey even more so because you spend much more time working towards goals than you do when you arrive at them).
Although there is still a lot to understand in the relationship between happiness, health, and goal setting and accomplishments, it is evident that goal progress, not goal achievement is most important.
3. Consistency is key
Science shows that we tend to focus too much on salient high points (i.e. the vacation or event you have coming up) and too little on day-to-day events that actually have a more profound effect on our overall happiness. The happiness equation requires the same approach as a healthy lifestyle—consistency! The greatest successes result from slow, steady, lifestyle changes because small things done consistently really do add up.
When it comes to happiness and health the small things truly are the big things, especially in terms of happiness. The idea that it is found in money, the perfect partner, a better job, bigger house, or a new car is what we most often see in our culture and in marketing/advertising, and yet research shows us that those things don’t bring deep or lasting happiness, rather it is the sum of small joys in everyday life that adds up to a more fulfilling and happy life.
Meditation is a great tool because it can be done by anyone, anywhere, at any time of day. There are many ways to meditate. For example, you can focus your attention on one object or your breath, pay attention to the present
moment, or listen to someone guide you to relax. The key to meditation is not in doing a particular kind, it’s about finding something that works for you. Research has shown that meditation can help improve sleep, sharpen memory, enhanced creativity, and decrease stress.
Meditation has also been shown to shrink the amygdala (the part of the brain that controls anxiety and fear) and lower the amount of cortisol (a stress hormone) in the body. Less anxiety, fear, and stress means more happiness and better mental and physical health.
5. Get some zzz’s
Appropriate sleep quality and quantity is necessary for a balanced and healthy life, and sleep has been found to have an important relationship with mental health and happiness. Sleep and happiness are positively correlated, and growing evidence is finding that poor sleep patterns are related to decreased physical health, mood, and psychological well-being.
Letting go of the idea that you will one day arrive at good health and happi- ness, and instead practicing positive and realistic habits is the most effective way to increase your overall happiness. Using these tips and practicing them regularly can make a significant differ- ence towards living a healthier, and happier life.
More Inspiration: Feeling a bit stressed still? Check out this cool article on 4 ways to hack your stress.
Author: Dr. Gillian Mandich is Canada’s Happiness Doctor. She uses the latest science to help people live happy lives. Mandich has a PhD from Western University in health science, specializing in health promotion. Her primary areas of research are happiness and health, and her personal mission is to educate people about evidence- based health information, so they can lead a happy, healthy life.