Seemingly existing today on how to be happy are more self help guides, books, and internet lists than there are happy people. Everywhere you look, everywhere you turn, there is someone or something requiring your undivided attention, and almost never in a fashion that offers you respite or even a second of tranquility in your busy day. When will you get the time for self-care? It’s all just too much! And while you may feel too busy to even read this article, that may be a sign that you need to read this article!
How often do the following words come up in your day-to-day conversations with yourself or your closest loved ones: stressed, exhausted, anxious, busy, tired, overworked, and too much responsibility!? The mere idea of an interruption in your day forcing you to concentrate on being happy, energetic, rested, or relaxed is as fantastical to you as a unicorn prancing on rainbows!
Luckily, there are some scientific-backed ways to set the tone for a calmer daily experience. And some of them just make sense if you stop to smell the roses (Oh, and literally stop to smell the roses! That’s one of them!). So, when you wake up with dread each day to face your normal human responsibilities of taking care of the kids, cooking meals to eat, cleaning the house, and accomplishing chores and errands, try to implement some of the passive tips in this article in order to enjoy a happier, easier, more stress-free existence.
Overall wellness encompasses three primary and coequal wellnesses: physical wellness, mental wellness, and spiritual wellness. Prioritize taking care of these three things and you’ll begin to recall stress and anxiety as a thing of the past; vanquished once and for all! Let’s begin with tweaking the things you are already doing. Every person on Earth has no choice but to use their five senses: tasting, touching, smelling, hearing, and seeing. Since you’re doing these things anyway, you might as well make them pleasurable.
We all have to eat, right? Did you know that there are foods besides chocolate which are scientifically proven to release dopamine and serotonin? I didn’t! But the fact of the matter is that foods like dark, leafy greens such as spinach and kale are loaded with nutrients that are rich in folates, which are linked to decreases in depression and other negative moods. Healthy whole-grain carbohydrates will increase mood-boosting chemicals in your brain, leaving you energized and happy! Something as simple as eating a bowl of Cheerios can start your day out on the right track. Incorporating Omega-3s from fatty fish, or even adding fish oils to your daily vitamin regimen, helps regulate your brain functions of mood and emotion. Statistics have shown that women and men who eat more fish products or fish oil supplements had a lower risk for depression symptoms than those who ate them less frequently. By also adding turmeric to your go-to cooking spices, you are introducing a chemical into your body that lessens the effects of rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, inflammatory conditions, and it fights diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease symptoms. By increasing serotonin and dopamine, ingesting turmeric is a simple and powerful way to increase your mood.
Quite simply, eating foods that react with the positivity-making chemicals in your brain is a sure way to easily and passively care for your mental wellness. One last tip for increasing your mental wellness through the foods you eat is by adding mushrooms to your meals. Did you know that mushrooms are the only vegetables that are loaded with natural Vitamin D? So if you are making a pasta dish, an omelet, or a salad, go ahead and throw some mushrooms in there to boost your brain’s serotonin and dopamine output. The reason that mushrooms have so much Vitamin D may not surprise you. In fact, it leads to the next unavoidable human sense that you can increase in an effort to maximize your happiness: getting outside!
We’ve all heard cliches and campy quotes about sunlight. It’s the “best disinfectant” and it’s loaded with “Vitamin D,” right? Something so simple and so true may not seem like something you need to remember to address throughout the course of your day, but we all know that when you get in a rhythm, especially a stress-inducing rhythm, you forget about some of these memorable adages. If you’re stuck in the house and you can’t get outside, try opening some windows and doors for some fresh air and a little more sunlight. The fresh air will bring in aromas from plants and flowers that are proven to release your brain’s happy chemicals. Citrus scents are also proven to relieve stress by inducing your brain to release that coveted dopamine and serotonin! You can use citrus-based essential oils on your skin, under your nose on your upper lip, or even with an eyedropper over the lightbulbs in order to have a happier, more pleasant day when you are stuck inside.
Here’s some simple logic: vacations are relaxing. Right? Perhaps you might think it’s because you're going somewhere you haven't been before and you’re having a new experience every time you go on vacation. And while that is definitely part of it, perhaps vacations induce happiness because vacationing forces you to go outside? Is it so much of a stretch to think that nature, life, and all its intricacies are directly related to our positivity and natural happiness? What is it about going to the beach that is so enjoyable? Perhaps it has to do with being under the sun and getting all that Vitamin D, being near water - which makes up the basis for all of life on Earth - and moving around by playing games on the beach or swimming in the ocean. We are a part of nature, so what better habitat to be in than our natural one? Increasing the frequency of your outdoor activities, and even taking normal activities outside, is a sure-fire way to increase your overall wellness and happiness.
Are you taking an internet-based college class? Are you reading materials for one of your kids’ new interests or school requirements? Maybe you need to make some business related calls. Take it all outside and do it in the sunlight! You aren’t burning electricity on lights and air conditioning, and therefore you are spending less money and worrying less about making ends meet, and you’re increasing your Vitamin D input, too!
Have you noticed that more and more people are owning pets, too? We all love our cats and dogs. We love to take care of them and see them smile. We love when they give us all that unconditional love and attention. And we love when they do silly things that are worthy of being captured on video and turned into an internet meme. Happy animals make humans happier! It may be no surprise to any pet owner to hear that petting an animal increases the brain output of serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin, while lowering the stress hormone cortisol. By giving love to a loving animal, we can love ourselves at the same time! Relationships with animals vastly improve a human’s spiritual wellness as well as their physical wellness, because animals require being walked in the park or being picked up and held in our arms. If you aren’t able to get regular exercise, consider taking your dog on a walk for 30 minutes. Perhaps that rascally pup will even introduce you to new people it decides to sniff along the way! And since humans are social creatures, meeting new people is another great way to improve spiritual wellness.
One more simple way to maintain a positive overall wellness is by listening (and singing along) to music. Have you ever heard a song on the radio or on TV that made the hairs on your arms and on the back of your neck stand up? There’s a reason for that! There is a very small organ in everyone’s inner ear called the sacculus, and studies have shown that it is directly tethered to the part of your brain that registers pleasure and releases dopamine. Quite simply, listening to emotional music forces your brain to change its chemical balance, and it happens almost instantly. When you experience a powerful emotion, your brain’s hypothalamus sends messages to the muscles through the nervous system that tightens your skin and forces your hairs to stand up. This process is called frisson, and I would be willing to bet that everyone has experienced it. So, if you are waiting to turn over the laundry, you are stuck in traffic, or simply stuck in a rut, try turning on some music and singing along. With earbuds or AirPods, you can do it practically anywhere these days, it especially helps make tedious chores more enjoyable.
In addition to some of these specific ways you can practice self-care, I’d like to offer you some positive ways of thinking that might set the stage for regular happiness. Who doesn’t like the sound of that? First, force yourself to smile (even if you need to use your fingers!). Practicing smiling initializes the flow of chemicals that would otherwise naturally occur in your brain that force a wide grin across your face, because believe it or not, happiness is somatic as well as it is psychological. Other behaviors that rise about due to happiness can also be forced to initiate happiness first, like practicing gratitude and random acts of kindness. Performing acts of kindness is a way of marketing yourself to others who operate with kindness. Some call it Karma, others call it practicing what you preach, but one old adage seems to sum it up the best: Geese of a feather flock together (notice the animal reference for an extra boost of happiness?).
And lastly, remember that while increasing positivity is one way of obtaining happiness, it’s just as important to decrease negative stimulus. Be mindful and take time to enjoy your surroundings. There are plenty of ways that you can do this that are simple. Taste your food, smell the aromas in the air, and look around at all the intricacies of mother nature. These thoughts and exercises replace otherwise more anxiety-inducing ones and make for a happier existence between your day to day chores, duties, and challenges. Instead of having the news on in the background, you can instead put on some music videos. Forget about the politics banter and the “compare and despair” Facebook sleuthing. Instead, accomplish simple goals like making your bed in the morning after you wake up, taking a shower before starting your day, and preparing yourself to have positive coping mechanisms for when something inevitably dampens your spirits.
So, why does all of this work so well? What lessons can we learn from taking the time to put down the screens and social media, and just loving ourselves a little bit more? Well, perhaps that’s the biggest one: we are too dependent on things that we have created instead of things that our bodies, minds, and souls demand. Humans have been doing these things since the beginning of humanity, but we’ve just gotten to a place where we neglect to take care of ourselves because it seems like everything requires us to exhaust our energy on it instead of us. Since the beginning of time, we’ve been outdoor creatures that exist alongside animals.