Throughout this year, we’ve explored the link between happiness and better overall health. Since we’ve asked our members, employees and members of the community to “Choose Happy,” we’d like to share what that might look like. With the help of our Population Health Team, we put together these five ways to “Choose Happy:”
- Practice mindfulness
- Create a gratitude and/or practice
- Engage in movement
- Build relationships
- Pay it forward
Now, let’s dive into each one a little further.
1. Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness means fully present in the moment, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us and relaxing fully into the present. Studies suggest that mindfulness can improve our mood, increase positive emotions, decrease our anxiety and have a positive impact on our hearts, brains and immune systems. There is more than one way to practice mindfulness, but the goal of any mindfulness technique is to achieve a state of alert, focused relaxation by deliberately paying attention to thoughts and sensations without judgment.
Ways to practice mindfulness include:
- Breathing exercise (mindful breathing)
- Progressive muscle relaxation
2. Create a gratitude practice or a vision board
Gratitude can lead to better mood, better quality of sleep, more self-efficacy as it relates to heart health and lower amounts of inflammation in the body. A study from the from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) analyzed blood flow across various regions of the brain while participants expressed feelings
of gratitude. It found that individuals who showed more gratitude experienced higher levels of activity in the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that controls major bodily functions such as eating, drinking and sleeping.
Ideas for practicing gratitude include:
- Putting together a gratitude list of things you are thankful for
- Keeping and writing in a gratitude journal
- Writing down what you are grateful for each day
A vision board is simply creating a compelling statement of who you are and what health-promoting, life-giving behaviors you want to practice consistently. It is a tool that allows you to make your goals visual. Of course, a lot of people think visualization is a silly gimmick, but it’s actually backed by scientific evidence. Visualization practices can boost performance and confidence to get you the outcome you desire. It’s not wishful thinking, because wishing doesn’t get us anywhere. Visualization is specific, intentional, and done with a plan. Visualization practices can boost performance and confidence to get you the outcome you desire. It’s not wishful thinking, because wishing doesn’t get us anywhere. Visualization is specific, intentional, and done with a plan:
- Visualization, which helps you stay focused on your goals
- Clarity, vision boards will help you distinguish what is important to you in life and what is not
- Happiness, creating vision board will boost your self-esteem and make you more positive and happier
- Determination, it will constantly remind you of the things you want to achieve in life
A successful vision board focuses on things that you want, but more importantly, it emphasizes how you want to feel about them. Vision boards can be a great way to clarify your expectations from life and strategies to accomplish them. They can increase your confidence; help you stay focused on important goals and motivate you to put effort to achieve them.
3. Engage in movement
Recent studies, including one from the University of Michigan confirm that those who are more active also report higher level of happiness. The researchers also found that people who moved more frequently tended to report greater life satisfaction overall than those who reported spending most of their time in a chair. Physical activity can reduce depression and anxiety, prevent or cure negative mental health conditions, reduce the risk of heart attack, lower the risk of type 2 diabetes and lower your risk of falls.
Get started with your movement plan by:
- Choosing the physical activity you would enjoy
- Starting slowly (Goal: 150 min or more weekly)
- Tracking your steps or minutes of physical activity
Remember when adding movement into your lifestyle it does not have to be strenuous. Even low to moderate intensity activities are effective.
4. Build relationships
Taking care of your body is important but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too. Earlier this year, we looked at the connection between social connection, happiness and health. Isolation and loneliness are risk factors for mortality. An ongoing Harvard University study that began in 1938, is showing that embracing community and keeping warm relationships helps us to live longer and to be happier. “Choose Happy” by building relationships with your family, friends and the community. Connect or reconnect with your loved ones, make new friends or call and plan with your current ones and socialize or interact more with you neighbors. Remember to smile, listen, practice healthy greetings and be respectful.
5. Pay it forward
To pay it forward means that instead of paying someone back for a good deed, you do a good deed for someone else. Research from the Washington University School of Medicine found that helping someone releases the “feel good” chemicals in your brain – dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin. Additional benefits include reduced stress, increased feelings of self-esteem and self-worth, increased empathy and connectedness and instant gratification.
How do you pay it forward? Keep a look out for opportunities. Life will provide you with numerous opportunities to pay it forward. You only have to be attentive. Give freely without expecting anything in return. Many people will ask you how they can reimburse you for your kindness. You can introduce these people to the idea of paying it forward. Remember that even small acts count. It doesn’t matter so much how much you give. All that matters is that you are willing to give and to spread the word
Examples of paying it forward include:
- Paying for someone’s coffee
- Participating in a cleanup day
- Donating some of your clothes
- Praying for someone in need
- Spending some time with the elderly
- Offering to take a photo
- Picking up garbage
- Loaning something without expecting it to be returned
- Letting others in the line go in front of you
- Saying “yes” when someone asks for help
- Writing a positive review of good businesses
Keep these ideas in mind as you “Choose Happy” this year and beyond. Thank you for following along with us thus far! We will continue to share activities and content showing how happiness can lead to better overall health. Remember to follow along on our blog and social media pages (Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn) and share your journey with us using the hashtag #AspireChooseHappy.