Many of us have this strange relationship with happiness where we see it as something we earn once we have worked sufficiently or once we have attained something desired.  This is a warped way of seeing happiness as it gives our power away completely to external circumstances or things.

 

 Happiness for Success

 When we experience happiness, as well as other positive emotions such as gratitude, joy, hope, love and serenity, we see more opportunities because our mind actually broadens.  On the contrary, when we are in a stressful mindset our body goes into fight-or-flight mode secreting stress hormones and we focus on the problems rather than the solutions.

Positive emotions on the other hand make us more creative, resilient, and productive and they enable us to better build on external and internal resources.   Let me rephrase this:  Feeling good is the driving force for success.

The good news is that even if we have a tendency towards negativity or if we are currently going through a difficult period we can actually change our brain structure (a term called neuroplasticity), and create the habit of feeling happy.  Nothing comes without practice but can you imagine anything more fun than practicing happiness?!

Four Exercises to Train Happiness

Here are four research-backed exercises to get you happier today and for years to come:

1. Have fun

As simple as this sounds, many of us adults simply do not make time for fun. When was the last time you laughed so much your belly hurt? The best two ways to do this is to:

  • Make a list of at least 10 things you love to do and schedule them into your calendar (yes, scheduling is important or most of us don’t do it!)
  • Incorporate fun in your everyday life. For example, take breaks at work and watch a short funny youtube video, go for a walk with a friend at lunch time, if you need to do household chores but you don’t enjoy them, you can listen to music while cleaning. Sometimes it’s a simple mind shift that makes all the difference.

2.  Exercise

Not only will it do your body good but, it also is a proven and powerful stress buster and mood booster. Not only does it have short term effects with the well-known release of endorphins but it has also been shown to have long term effects.  A famous study was done on severely depressed patients, they randomly divided the group into three, to the first group they gave anti-depressants, the second was asked to do exercise and take antidepressants, the third was only asked to regularly exercise a minimum of 45 minutes, three days a week.  After 6 months, the group that took the antidepressants had a 38% relapse rate, the one who had the exercise and medication had a 31% relapse rate but the one that did exercise alone only had a 9% relapse rate! Proof that regular exercise has long lasting positive effects on our moods.

3.  Gratitude

So much has been written about the benefits of gratitude simply because it works. It is impossible to feel gloomy when we focus on all that we have.  You can keep a gratitude journal where you write 3-5 things you are grateful for each day or you can share a gratitude practice with your family or partner before a meal where each person says something they are grateful for.  For more information on this check out Mindful’s guide on gratitude.

4.  Find Things to Look Forward To

Anticipation of future events can light up the feel good parts of the brain more than the actual event.  Think about the anticipation of a party, a vacation or Christmas as a child.  One research showed that just thinking about watching your favorite movie raises your endorphins about 27%.  In these Covid times looking forward to things after the end of this period also fosters hope and reminds us that this period like everything else is impermanent and will pass.

Conclusion

To integrate these into your life start small but do them regularly.  Set specific times and places for them and reward yourself when you perform these new habits.  So have fun, get moving, count your blessings and plan something to looking forward to!  What are your go-to habits on staying happy?

Here is a related article on restful sleep, another key component to happiness.

 

 

 

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