Yes! Although happiness is not a magic bullet, according to a study in the journal Applied Psychology, Health and Well-Being, there is a comprehensive review of the evidence linking happiness to health and longevity. The good news is that generating a state of happiness is something we can all do regardless of our environment or genetics.
Last year, New West Physicians' Winter Edition E-Newsletter dedicated the issue to Whole Person Wellness as a way of emphasizing that health goes beyond just physical well-being. In this issue, we want to encourage our patients, friends and families to continue in the pursuit of wellness in body, mind, and spirit.
So, how do we live happier lives?
While there are so many possibilities to discuss in this article, we have selected our top favorites as a way of inspiring you to continue to make positive changes in your life.
Before proceeding, it is worth mentioning that this article was inspired by a "Live Big Challenge" that Kim Bicket, Practice Manager at our Arapahoe Internal Medicine office, initiated with staff. She held a contest where staff would 'earn' points to make changes in their physical, mental, and spiritual lives. She provided examples of various tasks in each area, but the emphasis was on encouraging people to make positive changes in their lives – whatever that might be for them.
While there were first, second and third place prizes awarded, the most extraordinary part were the stories of how this effort changed the lives of many who participated. She told stories of people reaching beyond their comfort zone, travelling somewhere that has been on their wish list, eating more fruit and vegetables (and enjoying them), taking more time to play with family and friends, and heartfelt stories of recovery.
1. Build Your Social Network and Spend Time with Happy People
Happiness is contagious while loneliness can lead to higher rates of depression and health problems. It is important to choose people who you enjoy being around – someone who feeds your mind and spirit (not the Facebook kind). Choose your friends wisely, and when you socialize, make it worth your while by choosing activities that you enjoy.
Throughout history, philosophers and religious leaders have extolled gratitude as an important part of health and well-being. Since our mind tends to cling to the negative, it is important that we 'retrain' it by intentionally focusing on the good parts of our day – the wonderful person you met, the gracious cashier, the driver who stopped to help you (or someone else), the food you ate, the friend you talked to, the family member you spent time with. Focusing on what we are grateful for can make us feel better instantly! Each day think of something you are grateful for – when you wake, just before you sleep, or anytime in between.
3. Smile! Laugh! Play! It's Good Medicine
Most of us have noticed how much better we feel after we laugh or even when we smile. The benefits of smiling, laughter, and play relax the whole body and have been found to be an antidote to stress, pain, and conflict. What great news because humor connects us to others, lightens burdens, is free, and is contagious! Consider watching a funny movie, share a joke with a friend, play with a pet, play a childhood game with your kids, or go to a comedy club. Try to see if you can have a good laugh every day.
4. Volunteer Service/Compassion
I suspect many are familiar with the Pay It Forward movement; however, literature reflects that giving your time to someone else can boost your own sense of well-being. Even with our large 'to do' lists, those who have taken the time to give to another person or animal, would report increased feelings of happiness and social connection. No matter what our circumstances are, there is always someone that could benefit from a gift – a smile, a thank you, spare change, donation, a hug, or service work for a local non-profit.
5. Reflection, Meditation, Prayer
With the onslaught of daily stimulus of emails, phones, computer games, new phone apps, and all sorts of entertainment – quiet reflection and the inner stillness that lies beneath it - is at a premium. It has been said that quiet is a gateway to tranquility, healing, and restoration and can help to relax muscles, lower anxiety and pain, as well as enhance one's overall sense of well-being. Here are a few ideas:
Lastly, it is important to maintain good physical health with good eating habits, exercise, and quality sleep.
New West Physicians' wish for all our patients, family, and friends is to try some new things that will increase your happiness and your health for 2015.
"When patterns are broken new worlds emerge." Tuli Kupferburg