International Happiness Day: 15 ways to make your life happier
Today is International Happiness Day. The burning question is, can we make our lives happier? GP and author of A Prescription for Happiness Dr Mark Rowe, says yes. He gives some tips on how to generate happiness from within.
Develop the happiness habit
Gratitude is a natural antidote to feelings of envy, hostility or needless negativity. We can do two things to improve our ability to feel gratitude, says Rowe.
Gratitude must become a mind-set and a habit, so you have to work at it.
First, when something negative happens, try to re-frame it through "the lens of gratitude." If, for example, you feel someone at work is picking on you, try being grateful that you don't live with this person, he says.
Second, develop the habit of writing down three things that went well in your day. When we express gratitude by writing it, our inner happiness increases by between 10pc and 25pc he adds.
Be kinder to others and to yourself
Don't be so hard on yourself. Also remember that we never know what is going on in anyone's life so don't be so hard on others either. So stop judging and start practising Random Acts of Kindness (RAKs), he suggests:
"There is evidence from positive psychology that if we intentionally do five RAKs one day of the week, it makes us more tuned into what we are doing and why, and this boosts our sense of inner happiness and well-being."
Value your relationships
Cultivating and investing in the relationships in your life can provide you with a deep reservoir of long-term satisfaction and meaning.
"We are caught in a culture of always being "on" - we're on the phone, we're online, we're rushing a lot. To really show those close to you how much you value them and give them time."
Take a digital detox, he advises.
Connect with your purpose in life,and learn to love what you do
Make time to do what you love - because that's what lights the spark of your creative potential as well as your positivity and well-being.
"If you know the 'why' you can endure almost any 'how', says Dr Rowe. A lot of people feel they don't have purpose or meaning in their lives - but doing something you love is a great way to bring a sense of purpose into your life. Ask yourself, he suggests: "In what way can what I am doing, serve and support others?"
Take the anti-anxiety 'vaccine'
"Exercise can be so good that you might consider it as an 'anti-anxiety vaccine," Rowe declares.
"It reduces the levels of your body's natural stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, and it stimulates a number of brain endorphins, which are a kind of natural painkiller that allows you to feel calm, optimistic and energised, creating a pleasant, even mildly euphoric feeling."
Exercise also promotes the release of dopamine which boosts motivation and increases the levels of serotonin, the brain's own natural antidepressant.
Spend time regularly in silence or solitude
This can be a real game-changer for your happiness and well-being, Dr Rowe believes.
Today's world is full of 'negative noise'. Get away from it by trying some 'green exercise' - spending time out in nature - or by simply turning off the car radio on the commute to work.
Spending some quiet time alone slows the brainwaves, which shuts off the prefrontal cortex, quietens the inner critic and the monkey mind and allows you to enter a 'flow' stage where, he explains, you can think better and with a sharper focus.
Spend time with happy people
Each happy friend you have can increase your happiness by 9pc whereas each unhappy friend can reduce your happiness by 7pc. Positive emotion is contagious! So your friends, your friend's friends and your friends' friends' friends - people you don't even know- can actually impact on your happiness.
The key is to slow down and simplify; do less but be more effective at what you do!
"Become more of a minimalist," he suggests. Understand the psychology of why you say yes to less. Ask yourself what you can say 'no' to!
Identify the biggest sources of friction in your life - and do something about it, he suggests.
"Whether it's as simple as de-cluttering your wardrobe or as complex as de-cluttering your life, simplify and everything starts to change," Dr Rowe explains.
Don't take life too seriously. Laughter is very powerful medicine for mind, body and soul says Dr Rowe - it's good for your heart, releases natural painkillers and increase pain tolerance, enhances a sense of resilience and realistic optimism, is a terrific energy booster and an emotional 'tonic' he declares.
Set goals consistent with your values
Sustainable happiness requires a sense of engagement, Dr Rowe explains: "We are happiest when we are growing," he says.
"Have goals or projects that you are working towards," he advises. Such goals or projects could be health-related - for example, walking briskly every morning to lose weight and help train as part of a quarter-marathon.
So if climbing a mountain is of value to you, do it - neither necessarily reaching the summit nor wandering aimlessly at the foothills. And take time to smell the roses today.
Eat foods that support mood
Eat for health by consuming foods that are nutritious and good for you rather than by simply counting calories - and cut back your sugar intake: "Sugar won't love you back!" he warns.
"Countries that have a higher per capital sugar intake also report higher levels of depression," warns Dr Rowe."While I am not saying there's a definite link, we do know that high-sugar foods cause your blood sugar to spike and can affect your mood and your will-power."
More than 70pc of the body's serotonin is produced in the gut, he points out, , adding that "the gut-brain connection" and the role of the bacteria in the gut - the microbiota - are all interconnected.
Meditate for the mind
Meditation is a wonderful way to declutter and detox your mind. As you develop mastery over your attention, he says, you will become aware of every little thing as though seeing it for the very first time.
"Meditation promotes balance between body, mind and environment to maximise recovery powers," says Dr Rowe, who adds that it also makes you better able to relax and recharge
"As a lifestyle choice, meditation appeals to people who want to see improvements in their health.
"As a spiritual choice, meditation appeals to people who want to reach a higher state of consciousness," he explains.
Research shows that meditating for as little as a total of 11 hours over a period of two to three months at about 10 minutes a day, he says, will literally change the structure of your brain.
"The happiness centre gets bigger and the area around the amygdala - the emotional alarm or brains stress centre - gets quieter - and it also increases the area of the brain which deals with awareness, compassion and reflection!"
Get enough good-quality sleep
Lack of sleep turns your brain towards the fight/flight mode, increasing levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, he warns. This results in your feeling more stressed, with mood swings, impaired focus and reduced willpower.
"We should all try to get at least 7.5 hours sleep each night. This can be difficult with small children so ask for help or take turns with your partner. Sleep deprivation is not good for anyone, regardless of who is staying at home or going out to work," advises Rowe.
We feel good about ourselves and generally happier when we help others. Therefore, volunteering is invaluable both for the person who is volunteering and for the well-being of our society. Being part of a community is also proven to increase happiness, he says.
"Giving some of your time, talents or energy to support others can be really terrific for your happiness and well-being.
Start today, right now, by doing what you can with what you have, he suggests.
"The prize is that your life becomes richer, and more fulfilled as you reap the bountiful benefits of purpose and possibility," he declares.
Adopt a strength-based approach to life
Learn to focus on your personal strengths - courage, humanity, justice, love or wisdom.
This may sound corny, he acknowledges, but he warns, the reality is that most people tend to focus on their faults and weaknesses.
"It's about focusing on what you are good at and listening to your heart rather than your head. The key is to stop worrying about weakness so much and start using your strengths."
Happiness, says Dr Rowe, is about identifying and using your strengths.
"You have several strengths that you will most readily identify with, that energise and excite you when using them and that feel part of the real you. These are known as your signature strengths."
While learning about your strengths can give you a temporary boost in your well-being, he says, using your signature strengths regularly is a great way to boost your psychological fitness and expand your sense of happiness and overall well-being.
* Dr Mark Rowe will be among a number of experts to address Thrive, a one-day event promoting how to live with a sense of well-being and purpose. Thrive takes place at the Waterford Health Park in Waterford, on Saturday 22nd April. For more information visit www.whp.ie or www.facebook.com/Drmarkrowe