What Can You Do to Be Happy This Year? Besides Eating Tuna
Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA
Resolve to Be Actively Happy
Did you set New Year’s Resolutions? Some years I do; some I don’t. Which got me to pondering why we consider changes and fresh starts each new year. “To become a better person” seems the obvious answer. But to what end?
What lies behind the desire to “improve,” “remake,” or “change” ourselves? Ultimately isn’t it a pursuit of happiness? “If only this or that changed, then I would be happy,” is the implication. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. At least for 2014.
Meantime, both neuroscience and Outside magazine had the good timing to release a list of strategies that enhance happiness. Wouldn’t you know it, but the keys to being happy involve exercise, healthy eating habits, and playing (mostly outdoors).
If you are looking to add more happiness to 2014 then try adopting some of the the following habits. I listed the happy habits that I either liked the best, saw as easiest to implement, or validated my current values. To see the complete, original article read the January 2014 issue of Outside magazine.
I was a little surprised that early risers are happier people until I thought of the days that my get up and go got up but good! I always feel better when I get a jump on the day. Sure, we need to get in our 7-8 hours of snoozing per night. But we also need our Vitamin D. So the more time awake during sunlight hours, the better our immune system. It’s hard to be happy when ill; it’s easier to greet the day with a high five when we’ve gotten a good night’s sleep followed by an early rise. This habit is one I am working towards. Pretty sure this is really a sneaky way for me to have to set another resolution — get to bed earlier than midnight so I can wake refreshed at 6:30 or 7:00am, not the 7:30 that feels so luxurious.
If you read my post, A Tale of Caffeine and Dehydration, then you already know being dehydrated makes us — ok, ME — irritable. One supposition is that our neurons detect dehydration and warn the parts of the brain that affect our mood. Not enough water? The neurons hit the “bad mood” button. You’ll know if you’ve drunk enough water to improve your mood if your pee is clear or pale yellow. Wheeeeee Peeeeeee!
Exercise With a Group
Imagine how happy I felt reading this as a group fitness instructor for the past 33 years. Want to work harder while feeling happier? Being part of a team or group increases your intensity and endorphin levels more than when you train alone. Could this be the year you try group exercise classes or continue through the year? I have space in my classes for you! Perhaps a master’s level team sport is in your near future.
Cardio workouts are brain boosters; exercise in general reduces stress; even a few months of activity can reverse age-related memory impairment. Now that you are so smart, remember that regular, ongoing exercise rewires your brain for the better. Low stress, younger brain, and a good memory? That spells “H-A-P-P-Y better than a crossword puzzle clue if you ask me.
Who cares the reasons?!* The fact that cocoa flavanols are good for us (in moderate doses) is just plain old good news. Enough said.
* For those of you who want the reasons, hold on a minute while I lick the dark chocolate from my typing fingers. Basically, chocolate (specifically the flavanols) releases endorphins and calms us. Yes, it’s all in the mind. And mouth.
Eat Mood Enhancing Foods
Dark green veggies, turkey, salmon, tuna, sunflower seeds, walnuts, black beans, — these and other foods high in tryptophan or glutamine positively affect your neurotransmitters. Get naturally high without medication! How many of you noticed that eating happy foods causes the opposite of being dehydrated?
Listen to Music
Who wants to hear me sing? Debatable whether this will enhance your mood. Hmmm. Or you can hear Alexandra tra la la in many of our past radio episodes. Also debatable about the effect. We can say that if you listen to music you like, you will pump out dopamine (happy hormones) faster than Ahhhnold Schwarzenegger pumped it up back in the day. Tunes you enjoy give you an emotional rush. I now await a music company sponsor for this tip.
Choose the Right Biological Parents
Yes, it’s true and I’d be amiss not to confirm that genetics plays a role in your disposition. If born rich, I’d be happy! Oh, wait. That’s not really what we’re talking about here. Inherited tendencies determine about one third of our happiness level. So quit griping if your mom and dad were negative Norman and Nellie. You have two thirds of the story to write yourself. Especially if you follow the tips above!
I know I’ll sure be happier if you:
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