By: Dr. Francesca Vazquez
As a health psychologist, wellness writer and yoga teacher, I’m always being asked to write on topics related to happiness. It’s like the word has become a trend, a topic that will draw more readers, a topic that will generate the most shares. And I get what the fuss is about. Happiness is something we all strive for and have not completely understood. While this topic is way too broad to even imagine being able to tackle in its entirety, I will give you a few insights on what I know works.Thanks to research studies on wellness and neuroscience, we are now more able to understand what techniques truly help increase our happiness levels, boost mood and improve our life satisfaction. The following 5 techniques are by no means the only answers but will give you a place to start and an understanding as to why they work. They have been scientifically proven to be effective and I suggest giving them a try!
One of the most important and effective happiness boosting tools is exercise. Before symptoms become significant, it can help restore emotional balance. It has even been found that people who exercise throughout their lives are less likely to ever be diagnosed with depression, making it an undeniable preventive tool for mental health. Exercise is one of the most powerful stress management tools. Through its direct impact on our brain and physiology, it increases the body and mind’s ability to manage stress, making you more resilient in the face of adversity and more able to bounce back and restore your mood. It also has a direct impact on important neurotransmitters (chemicals in the brain in charge of mood) and hormones, such as serotonin and endorphins. Effective exercise modalities to increase happiness levels include running, cycling, dancing, high intensity interval training, sprints, weight training, barre, and anything that will break a sweat and increase you heart rate.
For an ultimate mood boost, I recommend complementing these exercises with mindful movement such as yoga. Yoga (e.g., vinyasa yoga, hatha yoga, power yoga, etc.) combines both the effects of moderate exercise and mindfulness, two techniques equally powerful for increasing happiness levels. By incorporating yoga into your weekly routine, you will increase endorphins and serotonin while also decreasing your cortisol levels (hormone related to stress and inflammation). In effect, you will feel more content and calmer. Yoga will also boost your mood by taming your agitated mind and helping you gain more control over your thoughts.
3. Feed your body whole foods
When we are feeling down or stressed, we tend to seek unhealthy, comforting foods (e.g., pizza, ice cream, french fries). Even though this is perfectly ok (and sometimes necessary), if we let these eating habits take over, we quickly become depleted in essential vitamins and minerals necessary to maintain mental wellness.To boost mood and feel happier, make sure you are eating foods that are high in vitamin Bs, magnesium, calcium, vitamin C, vitamin D, and omega 3’s. These include lots of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and fish. Fish, Chia seeds, Avocados, Almonds, bananas, spinach, and dark chocolate are all nutrient dense foods that help boost mood and calm the nervous system.
4. Be grateful
Gratitude exercises are interventions used in positive psychology and have been found to amplify the appreciation of good events and ultimately, rewire our brains to become more optimistic. It is possible to increase positive emotions by increasing our gratitude and by discontinuing to overemphasize on the bad events. By engaging in gratitude exercises, we start to train our minds to scan for the positive even when our life seems to be going up in flames. This in turn helps boost happiness.Some gratitude-increasing exercises you can try include setting a time each night to write five things you are grateful for — it can be either in the last 24 hours or the last 24 years of your life — or journaling about three good things that happened during the day. Through these exercises, many have noticed increased levels of happiness after just two weeks of practice.
5. Repeat positive affirmations
The more often you hear a message, the more likely you are to believe it. This is true for messages we hear from our friends, boss, parents, and ourselves.However, we have a choice. We can choose what we want to believe by counteracting negative messages. Choose two to three positive affirmations and repeat them to yourself daily or when you encounter a stressful event. For example, “I am strong and capable of getting this done.”It might seem ineffective at first, but with repetition we create habits. And with time, are able to rewire our brains to become more resilient and happier.
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