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Wednesday
Mar202013

Happiness and Health Series, Part 3: Happiness How-Tos

If you’ve been following our happiness series, you’ve learned how being happy can actually improve our health.

We’ve reflected on what research says about the difference happiness and life satisfaction can make in our health, what studies say genuinely makes us measurably more satisfied (not always what we think!) as well as the positive impact exercise can have on our mood.

Today, we’ll wrap up our series with a host of nutrition, fitness and lifestyle how-to tips. Consider it a go-to guide for reaping happiness and boosting your health each day.

How-To Eat Happy

Eat Fat. Our brains are made up of mostly fat. If you don’t eat enough, you are literally starving your opportunity for optimal, positive brain chemistry. Feed yourself Omega-3 rich foods and/or supplements,  and focus on eating a healthy fat source at every meal.  Read  6 Healthy High Fat Foods for reference.

Focus on the good.  When we try to eat healthy, many of us focus on what we “can’t” eat, such as junk food or alcohol. Instead, change your mindset to focus on shopping and preparing foods that are good for you and that you can eat on a regular basis, such as high quality proteins, vegetables, fruits and healthy fats.  The positive switch in attitude will keep you on track, and you’ll be more likely to stick with your healthy diet. 

Make it social.  Intellectual conversations have been shown to improve overall mood. Eating with others serves as a great environment for not only enjoying good company but also healthy dining.  Start a dinner club or orchestrate a meal at your place on a regular basis. Focus on healthy foods and good conversation. At every meal, try to keep all distractions minimal by turning off all electronics and enjoying your loved ones. 

Balance your intake.  Make sure you’re focusing on good quality protein, fat and fruit/vegetable at every meal.  Balancing these foods helps balance the nutrition going in, which in turn will help keep your energy levels stable, hunger in check, and your mood up.  If you usually do a carbohydrate dominant breakfast, such as cereal and juice, try balancing out your nutrients with a breakfast of eggs and veggies. Note the difference in how your energy and mood maintain until the next meal.

Dump the Downers.  Consuming too much sugar, caffeine and/or alcohol can have a negative effect on your energy and mood.  Start by tracking or journaling your food intake to see where you can make some quick pivots and substitutes. Try to keep your caffeine to a cup or two of coffee, and your sugar and alcohol as limited as possible. If you’re motivated enough, try to go 100% downer-free for at least two weeks to see how your mood improves.   

How-To Train Happy

Cross Some Finish Lines.  Dopamine happiness is triggered through reward. Setting up some future finish lines will be a great way to prompt that feel-good hormone release.  The finish lines could be as simple as being able to do five pull ups on your own all the way up to an ultra-endurance event, such as a marathon.  Make your finish lines important to you. Write them down and stick with it.

Partner Up.  Find a partner or group of people with similar goals to help keep your fitness fun and social.  These social relationships will not only help you stay accountable to your fitness plan but will fill your happiness quotient with opportunity for social engagement.  Make a goal to invite a friend for a daily/weekly walk, or join a group/club that meets on a regular basis to work out. 

Change it Up.  Variety is key to avoiding boredom.  Make sure you continuously assess your program and make changes to it at least every four to six weeks. Seek out professional guidance if needed.  Don’t forget to change your environment as well once in a while. Spring is coming and with it the easier opportunity to get outside and be active.

Have fun. Workouts don’t have to be serious business! Find an activity that helps you smile or have fun while doing it, such as a dance class or sport activity. Make a goal of doing one of these types of exercise at least one day a week.

Device It.  Having an activity monitor or heart rate monitor can help you cultivate your dopamine happiness. It will remind you to boost your activity each day but will also give you the instant gratification and neurochemical boost as you celebrate “what you’ve done.”

How-To Live Happy

Take Notes.  Keep a gratitude or happiness journal to reflect on the positive things in your life. Include either bigger elements (e.g. a loving family) you’re grateful for or small moments in the day that made you smile (e.g. seeing the first crocuses bloom in your yard). Pick one day a week to write in your journal to start and work your way up to every night. As a daily practice before bed, keeping a gratitude/happiness journey can improve your sleep quality and give you a better perspective on the next day.

Remember to Breathe.  Take time each day to meditate and center yourself.  The power of breathing helps lower cortisol, your stress hormone, and will balance if not improve your mood.  If you’ve never meditated before, try a yoga class or even download an introduction app on your phone.  Make a point of practicing the introduction or other centering method on a daily basis.

Pay it Forward.  Take the time to do something for someone else.  Try to do random acts of kindness as often as you can.  Remember the intention is to be random, not pre-meditated or to do so for reward or recognition.  Today, try opening the door for another person, letting someone else go in front of you in line or pay for another person’s toll or coffee.  You might find yourself doing these on a daily basis.

Don’t Forget to Smile.  Smiling and walking proud helps you exude more confidence.  Even if you’re faking it, over time these actions will help improve your mood and others around you. Emotion can follow action.

Embrace the Power of Touch.  Oxytocin happiness (one of your four forms) comes from trust and can be triggered through either the touch of a loved one or professional techniques like massage, which also relieves stress and subsequently improves mood.  Consider this encouragement to add extra hugs to your day and splurge on a massage for yourself once a month!

Written by Anika Christ – Senior Program Manager of Life Time Weight Loss

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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