It’s International Day of Happiness, so to celebrate here’s five instant mood boosters
“Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”
Yes, we’re quoting Harry Potter, but for good reason. The past year has been tough and hard on us all in so many differing ways. With the fear of the pandemic and social isolation caused by lockdown, you’re not alone if you’ve been feeling less than happy lately. And whilst we can’t always be in a good mood, we promise there will always be something to remain positive about. To lift any low moods and celebrate International Day of Happiness, we spoke to an expert on the science behind this feeling.
“Psychologists have long believed, that to have an overall feeling of happiness, it depends on two aspects – the degree of ‘hedonia’ - meaning pleasure - and the degree of ‘eudamonia’ – meaning the feeling of a life, well-lived,” explains Dr Deborah Lee from Dr Fox Online. “More recently they have added a third essential component – to feel truly happy, we need to feel a sense of commitment and to be participating in life. In general, we believe that happiness leads to good health. Most research studies on longevity have shown this to be true - that the happiest people live the longest lives. Medical studies have shown that happiness is associated with a lower risk of diseases such as stroke, diabetes, and arthritis. Also, happy people are more likely to recover from serious medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease or spinal cord disease. Psychologists recognise that positive psychological treatments can alleviate symptoms of depression.”
However, it’s fair to say that our overall level of happiness has been effected by the pandemic. “Happiness levels have plummeted in this second lockdown,” says Dr Deborah. “One recent UCL study reported that 40 per cent of us are taking less exercise and 19 per cent of us are watching more TV. In general, people are spending less time on hobbies and interests. Life satisfaction and happiness have fallen to lower levels than in the first lockdown.”
So, what can we do to feel better? Dr Deborah has recommended the following ways to boost your mood that are pandemic-friendly, too:
Feel happier today:
1. Take up a new hobby
Did you know that hobbies and pastimes are an excellent way to improve your quality of life. When you start something new it gives you something else to occupy your mind, it may get you out of the house, and it helps you get connected to other people -even if done virtually. There are so many options – reading, knitting, quilting, DIY, singing, walking, and gardening - to name a few. Gardening, for example, is a great way to relieve stress and has been shown to lower the incidence of dementia by 36 per cent.
2. Practise being grateful
Psychologists realised long ago that that gratitude equals happiness. Showing gratitude improves interpersonal relationships. You can try showing gratitude by sending personal thank you letters, notes, flowers or whatever helps you to show appreciation. Being grateful has been shown to enhance dopamine and serotonin receptors.
Doing more exercise is the number one way to help you feel happier. When you exercise, this leads to the release of endorphins, dopamine, and endocannabinoids, all of which help counteract stress and elevate your mood. The endocannabinoid system is a poorly understood brain pathway associated with functions such as thinking, mood, sleep, pain, and appetite. The level of the endocannabinoid anandamide is known to rise during exercise.
4. Be kind to yourself
When things go wrong, don’t criticise yourself harshly - praise yourself instead for doing the best you can do. Those who accept things as they are and live in the moment are likely to be healthier and happier. They are more likely to attend appointments and follow healthcare recommendations Making mistakes is part of being human!
5. Get a houseplant
Of course, we had to chime in with a fifth recommendation – treat yourself to a plant! We’re not just saying that either – science backs us up. A 2016 study revealed that the presence of more than three indoor plants in homes and businesses enhanced mood. Better still, being surrounded by greenery can also include lower blood pressure, heart rate and a reduction of that dreaded stress hormone, cortisol. If that’s not something to smile about, we don’t know what is!