Feeling happy is intrinsically important to a fulfilled life - it affects both our physical and emotional wellbeing, and studies show that happier people tend to lead longer and healthier lives. Sadly, feeling happy is sometimes easier said than done. And in a world full of things demanding our attention and energy, our own happiness can often fall to the wayside. So to give your mental health a boost, here are some things to adopt, work on or simply switch.
Human beings are pack animals. We generally crave social interactions and thrive in loving relationships.
Robert Waldinger is a psychiatrist and the director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development - one of the world's longest and most comprehensive study of adult life. In 2015, Waldinger shared the findings at a TED talk where it was revealed just how important relationships are.
Of the findings, Waldinger says, 'Social connections are really good for us, and we found out that loneliness kills. It turns out that people who are more socially connected to family, to friends, to community, are happier, they're physically healthier, and they live longer than people who are less well connected. And the experience of loneliness turns out to be toxic.'
This one is no secret. Exercise has a profound effect both on our physical and mental wellbeing.
For decades exercise has been used to help ease depression, memory loss, Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. But there are ways to release endorphins that don't necessarily involve joining a gym.
Instead of driving to work, walk part of the way and take public transport. Or if your work place isn't too far, walk the full distance. Just 20 minutes of exercise a day can boost your mental health and mood. If that's not possible, team up with a colleague and go for lunchtime walks - it's also a great opportunity to escape the office and enjoy some vitamin D.
Giving back and donating our time is one of the most rewarding things you can do, and there are a growing number of studies on the topic. Speaking about the outcomes of the research, Dr Stephen Post from Stony Brook University in New York says, 'Volunteering produced health benefits because it provided meaningful activities, made people feel like they mattered and helped them adjust to change.'
And you don't have to give up your weekends or quit work to volunteer - there are hundreds of not-for-profits that'll benefit from your time, even if it's just a few hours a week. This could include:
- Emergency volunteering - helping during a crisis, i.e. bush fires and floods
- Event volunteering - such as Cancer Council's Daffodil Day, ANZAC Day or Red Nose Day
- Local volunteering - helping at nursing homes, animal shelters or soup kitchens.
We eat to survive, but how about eating for happiness? Different chemicals in food effect our brain differently, so knowing what to eat and why can fuel our mental wellbeing. Here are some common food boosters and downers, as outlined by Prevention and Huffington Post.
- Clams - packed with vitamin B12, eating clams can help make dopamine and serotonin
- Coffee - this caffeinated vice can actually increase dopamine and serotonin transmission
- Pomegranate - when consumed every day for two weeks, it's said drinking the juice from the seed can lower blood pressure, anxiety and depression
- Apricots - packed with vitamin B6, this summer fruit can help reduce depression
- Dark chocolate - it's true, this sweet treat contains chemicals such as polyphenols, which can help boost your mood
- Packaged fruit juice - processed sugar is said to reduce short and long-term memory
- Cheese - foods high in saturated fat can cause inflammation in the brain
- Fried foods - fried food can increase blood cholesterol levels and in some cases can increase your risk of developing Alzheimer's disease
- Salt - high levels of sodium intake could affect your blood pressure. And the higher your blood pressure, the more strain you put on your heart and arteries.
The secret to a healthy and happy life? We think it's about making small changes to ensure you eat well, live well, and are surrounded by meaningful relationships.