Everyone aspires to live a happy life. For a lot of people, that means focusing on big-picture goals - things like raising a family, owning a home, and finding the perfect job. While these ambitions are valid, they're all on the macro scale of life and tend to take time. Meanwhile, there are many small changes we can make to our day-to-day to raise our happiness quotient right here and now. While there's no sure-fire path to personal fulfilment, here are five evidence-backed methods that could help to lead you in the right direction.
Look at what's on your plate
In times of stress or hardship, it can be tempting to reach for 'comfort' foods as an emotional crutch. Research shows that eating certain types of dark chocolate in times of stress can have a positive effect on mood, partly due to flavonoid antioxidants, which benefit brain and cardiovascular health.
Similarly, sugar activates the brain's reward system - triggering the release of dopamine - creating feelings of pleasure. However, these are fleeting experiences that can't be sustained long term. Research has emerged that explores potential links between excessive sugar consumption and depression and low-moods, although this is an area that requires further study.
Perhaps a more fulfilling strategy is to eat a balanced, healthy diet. A local study that tracked the diets and moods of 281 young adults over a three-week period found that subjects reported positive moods the day after eating increased levels of fruit and vegetables. Moreover, 'meaningful changes' were associated with the daily consumption of 7-8 serves of fruit and vegetables.
With that in mind, try to follow the New Zealand Eating and Activity Guidelines and increase your intake of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes. Foods you should limit or avoid entirely include refined cereals, fried snacks, cakes, biscuits, and alcohol.
Go for a jog
Exercise comes with a myriad of benefits, but we tend to focus on the physical side of the equation. While this is a significant component of wellbeing, physical activity greatly benefits the mind, too.
A 2018 international study found that physical activity and exercise can decrease the chance of developing depression in youths, in adults, and in the elderly.
So, exactly how active do you need to be to start seeing results? Mental Health NZ recommends 30 minutes of vigorous exercise per day as an achievable goal.
Unplug before bed
Statistics New Zealand has revealed that there are 3.8 million mobile phones in New Zealand with an active internet connection. On average, Kiwis are spending 18 hours a week staring at their phone screens, and almost 40% of us are concerned about the amount of time we, or those closest to us, are spending mindlessly tapping and scrolling. Is all this time peering at our phones taking a toll on our happiness? It seems likely.
One area of concern is the impact that screen exposure is having on sleep quality. The blue light emitted from a phone screen hinders the production of melatonin (the hormone that induces sleep) in the brain. Poor sleep is linked with anxiety and depression, while the inverse is also true - good sleep promotes positive wellbeing and happiness.
For a restorative night's rest, try to avoid using any screen-based device within an hour of your planned bedtime.