Laura G Owens ~ Writer

Humanity. Health. Happiness.

Category: Happiness

happiness

119 scientifically proven ways to be happier

One of my all-time favorite topics. Okay so maybe 119 ways to feel happier feels a little overwhelming. So cherry pick. Try two, or six or twenty….

This guest post is from Health Grinder.

Everyone wants to be happy.

We’ve all experienced it at different points in our lives. And the feeling is so good that it’s probably the one thing everyone can agree they want to have in life.

Plus, happiness makes us healthier, lets us live longer, and be more productive.

So how can you be happier? In life, love, relationships and even work.

We’ve dug into tons of research studies to help you find the answer. Here are 119 ways to be happier. See which ones you can incorporate into your life.

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Why this nation is so happy

By Sgt. Samuel R. Beyers [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Sgt. Samuel R. Beyers [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Live Happy magazine reports that Costa Rica ranks as one of the happiest places on earth across a number of happiness index scales (Ranked number 1 out of 151 countries by the Happy Planet Index, HPI).

When I went a few years ago, among the many places I’ve traveled, Costa Rica in particular, left a vivid sensory imprint I revisit in my mind, often.

There’s something quickly transformative about Costa Rica, perhaps it’s immersion in the lush biodiversity combined with meeting Costa Ricans (“Ticos”) who do more than merely recite their nation’s slogan, “Pura Vida,” the good life, they feel it.

And so, I’m not surprised the Happy Planet Index (HPI) ranked Costa Rica number one.  The HPI combines 3 factors:

  1. Sense of well-being. (The HPI survey asked respondents to imagine the worst possible life and the best possible life and then rate where they fall on the Ladder of Life). (Costa Rica = 7.3/10, excellent).
  2. Life expectancy. (Costa Rica = 79.3, excellent).
  3. Ecological Footprint.  (This measures sustainability. Can a country sustain its citizens without outside help. If for example, a country cut itself off from the rest of the world, could it be self-sufficient based on use of land for sustainability? Costa Rica = 2.5, average).

Lost Iguana Resort, Arenal region, Costa Rica

Lost Iguana Resort, sloped walk towards our room.

Simply put, Costa Ricans rate their quality of life high, live relatively long and while their sustainability/self-sufficiency isn’t superior, it’s right up there. Much of the land is protected under an aggressive conservation plan and so citizens live among unspoiled natural beauty, which as we know, closer to nature, closer to calm.

Let me add, Costa Rica has no military. 

“We are a happy country because we don’t know what it is to lose millions of people in a war,” says resident Carlos Arias . “We have no army. Our happiness is easier to achieve because we are easily amazed, and maybe that has to do with the fact that we haven’t suffered any big wars, like the rest of the countries in our continent.” Source: Live Happy magazine, April 2015.

Costa Ricans, Carlos explained, also have an easier time moving up a social class and making friends across classes. I wonder then, if some of their sense of well-being is feeling inter-connected which fosters mutual respect and that caring community we all crave.

What is superficially surprising, however, is that Costa Rica, a relatively poor country, whose per capita income is no higher than the international average, is consistently right up there (on happiness) with its wealthier counterparts. ~ “A Country Without a Military? You Bet!,”  by David P. Barash Ph.D, Dec. 13th, 2013

 

Arenal volcano, Costa Rica, Lost Iguana Resort

Arenal volcano. La Fortuna region, Costa Rica.

A couple of years ago my husband and I visited the Arenal volcano region (outside La Fortuna) to celebrate our 20th anniversary. I was at once relaxed like every vacationer who finally exhales, but Costa Rica brought me there faster.

Iguana Resort was surrounded by exotic flowers, plants and birds. The private lodging was nestled into the side of a mountain with access through small paved roads that sloped upward to our secluded room.

Lost Iguana Resort, Golden Gecko spa

Sitting outside Lost Iguana Golden Gecko spa. Costa Rica.

Our open air porch housed two (notably creaky but oddly soothing) wooden rocking chairs that faced the jungle and the misted Arenal (active) volcano on the horizon. You have no choice but to feel blissed when you’re connected to a country who cocoons visitors in natural beauty at every step.

Residents are extraordinarily polite (almost formal I’d read despite the informality of the country) and so on the advice of traveler reviews I reigned in my forward American gusto to keep my personality footprint respectful.

Still, everyone easily smiled hello and good-bye while they said the nation’s mantra, “Pura Vida,” the good life.  I quickly looked forward to responding with the same as a reminder that like the citizens, I was experiencing the well-felt Costa Rican life. 

stray but well fed dogs in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Well-fed stray dogs outside a restaurant in La Fortuna, Costa Rica.

Stray dogs also thrive in this relatively poor but largely economically sound nation.  Most residents in La Fortuna can’t afford to keep pets but they clearly care for the animals. I saw water bowls on almost every business stoop and people threw scraps for the dogs while they ate in outdoor air restaurants.   The loving communal care is obvious because despite the throngs of stray dogs, none of them looked starved for food or attention. 

Costa Rica’s verdant land and symphonic rain forest ripe with hundreds of varieties of birds was subconsciously meditative. Years back I gave up the pressure of trying to meditate except to intuitively fixate on nature’s theatre and gentle tree sways.

LI pool

The pool at Lost Iguana Resort, Costa Rica.

One afternoon at the resort I quieted my busy brain by walking circles in the shallow end of the resort pool as I scanned the property with binoculars looking for hidden birds I could hear but not see.

One-third of the year Costa Rica is covered with blue skies and cool breezes. Every day after 1pm it rains which for someone who craves long hours of bright sunlight is unappealing and moody. Usually however, the rains only lasted long enough to re-lubricate the land and to hydrated my skin in a wonderful permanent mist.

When I asked our canal eco tour guide if he ever considered living anywhere else he told me no, never.

If you grow up in Costa Rica, chances are you’ll stay even if you’re not rich.  If you live outside Costa Rica, chances are someone will insist you visit a country that seems to live abundantly happy, despite it’s modest abundance.

Postscript: Nadine Hays Pisani author of Happier Than a Billionaire: Quitting My Job, Moving to Costa Rica & Living the Zero Hour Work Week. “I’ve had a very, very good experience. I don’t know if I could go back to how I lived before. I made a mistake by thinking I always had to have something new to make myself happy. I never considered that nature can make you happy, being outside can make you happy. I worked a 10-12 hour day. I was never outside.”

Why care about happiness ratings for another country?

“Most measures of national progress are actually just measures of economic activity; how much we are producing or consuming. By only using indicators like GDP to measure success we are not accounting for what really matters, producing happy lives people now and in the future.

The HPI puts current and future well-being at the heart of measurement. It frames the development of each country in the context of real environmental limits. In doing so it tells us what we instinctively know to be true – that progress is not just about wealth.

It shows that while the challenges faced by rich resource-intensive nations and those with high levels of poverty and deprivation may be very different, the end goal is the same: to produce happy, healthy lives now and in the future. The HPI demonstrates that the dominant Western model of development is not
sustainable and we need to find other development paths towards sustainable well-being.” Source: Happy Planet Index

Get your bare feet on the ground: The many benefits of connecting your feet to the earth (called grounding or earthing) 

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3 ways to amp up happiness

happiness

Credit: pixabay.com

The happiness movement is in full gear with piles of positive psychology research and even a happy magazine (“Like” Live Happy magazine on Facebook for daily tips to amp up your smile).

Most of us already sense how we can get happy but now research backs what our gut’s been telling us.

Live Happy tips:

  • Vitamin D. Before the skin cancer worry we used to let the sunshine in to reap the benefits, including a natural mood boost. Everyone is happier with sunshine streaming into a nearby window but to get a full dose of D, you need a direct hit. So, if your skin type and schedule can take it, grab some sun for 15-20 minutes a day. Otherwise, supplement (I take 5.000mg a day of D3 (cholecalciferol), not D2 (ergocalciferol).
  • Exercise. Exercise boosts the protein BDNF (brain-developed neurotropic factor) which helps neurotransmitters function more effectively. Exercise is so helpful to battle depression it’s often included in treatment programs. The last thing you want to do however, is beat yourself up because you’re not exercising enough. Find an activity you enjoy that moves your body as often as possible. Walk, hike, take the stairs, park farther away, dance, bike, do yoga. Work up to 3-5x a week, 30 minutes or more.
  • Gratitude. Happiness researchers mention the benefits of feeling grateful all the time. So, how can we make gratitude convert into higher happiness? Notice the good in our everyday, even our yesterday, moments.Create a positivity (rather than negativity) bias. Say you had a really bad day yesterday, think back to what went right (more than you imagine) and what’s going right, right NOW. Practice active gratitude and in time you’ll re-wire your brain to notice more of the positive than the negative. Neurons that fire together, wire together.
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Feeling joy: living intentionally to re-wire your brain

joy, living intentionallyAs it turns out, we humans adapt pretty well to feeling awful or to living the less dire but equally joyless neutral and numb existence.

Kids, relationships, jobs, falling finances and health vie for every inch of our energy. For some, crippling pain or depression or anxiety or loneliness overshadows sensations of joy, stifling an existence that is designed for pleasure.

Soon the moments of joy we do notice become special occasion exceptions rather than our rule for living.

Embrace hedonistic happiness

And yet, as humans we’re designed to pulsate with pleasure, to feed our craving for self-gratification (hedonistic happiness) and to pursue a noble meaningful purpose that elevates our mind and opens our heart for the greater good (eudaimonic happiness).

And yet our happiness can be notoriously fed or doused by the company we keep.

Misery might love company but positivity is contagious and a habit like any other. If we align long enough to people who recite reasons why life is out to get them we reinforce a rut of joyless and pained living.

And while we don’t necessarily need to abandon every negative person in our lives (although a toxic relationship dump is a grand idea in some cases), we can become immune to their soul-sucking (however unintentional) vibe.

This emotional protection is, in a poetic sense, what Herman Melville in Moby Dick referred to as our “insular Tahiti,” a self-protected encapsulated practiced place of peace and joy we strive to live, despite external chaos.

Humans notice the negative: breaking patterns

All of us can unlearn parasitic patterns of negative thought that erode our well-being (thoughts that literally affect our health). I’m not suggesting daily pep talks or posting sticky note mantras on the fridge will radically change your well-being (although these can’t hurt), I’m suggesting making our thoughts and actions intentional, habitually feeling grateful and engaging in happiness-stoking activities that literally re-wire our brain from our human tendency towards the negative, to the positive.

Humans, explain evolutionary psychologists, have a natural negativity bias in order to survive earlier threats. When man spotted a lion (negative) he ignored the carrot (positive) because he knew the carrot wasn’t a threat and would likely be there tomorrow, but he might not there tomorrow if he ignored the lion.

We simply adapt to our day-to-day positive experiences (we wake up rested, the sunrise is stunning, we eat a nice breakfast, our child is dressed on time, our dog is loyally loving us, the traffic flows for a change, purple flowers cover the highway median, our headache is somehow gone).

We tend to notice the negative that interrupts the web of positive that makes up the majority of our day.

We can however re-wire our brain. Experts in the field of positive psychology often cite that “neurons that fire together, wire together.”  In other words, engage in happiness activities (what you truly love) over and over and over and you re-program your brain towards a positivity bias, and you feel better.

We now know our noggin is far more pliable than we ever imagined.

No longer do we need to become our doctor’s diagnosis and we can bathe our mind and body in feel good, healing and calming chemicals by, for example, spending time with others, feeling genuinely grateful and showing empathy towards others.

Walk barefoot on the sands of a quiet beach at sunrise, sync with the ebb and flow of the ocean as you whisper thanks to a divine and you will simultaneously relax your mind, breathe in spirit and soak in the earth’s abundant healing electrons (called “grounding” with 15 years of evidence to back its benefits).

Intentional living means we focus on the many everyday moments that continue to go well.

We can tap the healing powers of our natural world to create emotional and physical well-being.

We can use what we now know of neuroscience to maximize our brain’s capacity for joy.

We can embrace the unseen forces in the universe for our own good and the good of others, call this force God, divine, or if you prefer, energy.

We can merge science, our natural world and spirit to elevate our mind and body to a place of intentional and habitual joy. This isn’t a prescription for nirvana or bliss, that ethereal place we imagine only for monks, it is a real-life prescription for better living, through better feeling.

Image credit: Maggie McCall

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Your original perfection

reachingoutAll of us it seems, have two voices in our head. Sometimes all we hear is the critical nudge who insists we’re never enough, that we find a new job or new relationship or lose weight or parent better or volunteer more, that we make more homemade or wipe away more piles of dust.

It doesn’t matter how this voice got a hold of us, whether our mother or father or 8th grade math teacher or failed business or best friend or partner convinced us they were right until eventually we believed the lies and kept trying to please, it only matters that we shoo the voice away or we’ll never be fully full despite mounds of evidence of our built-in, born with it awesomeness.

But within us also sits a whisper, the gentle voice who insists that whatever they think, the others, and whatever we haven’t done yet doesn’t matter much. What matters are the multiple seconds of good we do that are more powerful than our imperfections and anger and fear or failures or never-accomplished triumphs.

Think back to Monday when maybe made you made your child laugh until she fell down or on Saturday and most days, when without thinking you smiled at the stranger on the sidewalk who looked vacant and sad or when you gently spoke up for a friend at a party who wasn’t around to defend herself against attack or when you let a woman cut in front of you at the grocery store and sucked in your righteous griping, and that you always, without fail, apologize when you make a mistake or hurt someone’s feelings.

Your tiny angel efforts touch lives by spectacular inches.

If we pay close attention despite the noise of our day, if we reflect on gratitude for not only what we receive but for what we give, we begin to notice that we do more than merely ‘do no harm,’ we make a positive impact on others because we somehow sense that if we need to feel joy and hope, or at the very least not dreadfully alone, so must everyone else.

When we realize we make a difference in small but significant moments that add to the good emotions of someone’s else’s life and that the accumulation of these good emotions very much has a ripple effect; we begin to know that we are indeed, enough.

In a world filled with viral images of airbrushed perfection, with wars and global devastation and mean politics and pedophile priests and top 10 lists of hard bodies and high bank accounts and posts filled with lives that seem to shine brighter than ours, the applause from our internal cheering section sometimes fades to silence.

Instead of accepting ourselves as Original Sinners who chronically miss the mark, let’s notice our Original Perfection, times when we hit the bulls-eye of grace and care and compassion, times when we held our tongue with near impossible patience. Maybe then we do good from our gut rather than from guilt-of-falling-short which leaves drumming scars of never-enough.

I know people who can’t write checks to charity or can’t find time to volunteer between jobs, kids, colds, dying parents or too little sleep but they give the whole of themselves with daily decency. These are the people who ask “How are you?” to the stressed out cashier or somber man standing alone in the corner at the business meeting who looks awkward and uncomfortable.

This is enough. This is your God-given Original Perfection.

Maybe our kinder gentler voice is the divine tapping us awake, nudging us to notice our fleeting and seemingly unimportant gestures that add to the world rather than subtract, that leave a soft footprint of quiet radical radiance.

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Secrets to Happiness Don’t Change. Timeless Wisdom Prevails.

Philosophers, spiritual leaders, self-help gurus, even scientists profess to know what makes a person happy, yet the core principles remain unchanged.

happiness, joy, dalai lama, secrets to happiness
The theories behind what creates happiness have been dissected, discussed and debated since the beginning of time. New disciplines are blended with ancient philosophies in an attempt to understand the nature of positive emotion. Humans inherently strive to feel good physically and mentally, to seek joy. While the pathway is highly individual, the desire for joy is rooted in universal longings.

As the ideas surrounding individualism emerged throughout history, some philosophers argued that pursuing personal joy was self-centered, non-altruistic and hedonistic. Yet some argue that placing the pursuit of joy as a central goal in one’s life doesn’t necessarily diminish others’ goals. Cultivating joy can, in fact, become the engine that drives a person towards expressing deep, genuine compassion and kindness.

The formula for happiness is dependent upon a person’s beliefs, experiences and cultural, generational and familial expectations. Yet, the core principles appear universal, invulnerable to social trends or to the inherent differences that exist among people.

Happiness as a Choice and Daily Discipline

In the 2007 LiveScience article “The Keys to Happiness, and Why We Don’t Use Them,” Robin Lloyd writes that while psychologists continue to discuss the “keys to happiness” with patients, many continue to adhere to habitual ways of negative or irrational thinking. It’s believed that people can only change chronic patterns of thought when they actively, with intention, decide they want to. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Most people are as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

Individuals can begin by adopting a firm, unwavering belief that they deserve to be happy, and not by taking defensive stances like, “That lucky SOB always gets money, girlfriends and promoted. I deserve that, not him.” Happiness can come in addition to others’ good fortune, not in lieu of it.

A person must also change the commonly held belief that others “make” them happy or unhappy, e.g. “If he would be more attentive,” “If my boss would only give me a raise,” etc. People can’t make another person happy, but they can add to the collective pool of joy that’s available to everyone.

A person can choose to accept with peaceful conviction that they deserve to be happy simply because they do, for no other reason or justification. Some people associate this brand of thinking with being entirely self-serving, and in fact – it is. To joyfully serve self however, means others will be served in the center and the wake of another’s happiness. A joyful parent is more emotionally present, more patient, more fulfilled; children sense this. A joyful spouse is more attentive, loving and appreciative, and as such, more likely to receive the same in return.

Click here for: Amazon’s Highly Rated Books about Happiness 

Establishing a daily discipline of journaling, prayer, and/or meditation helps foster a mindset that intuits that joy is natural and deserved, rather than something to be earned. Next, individuals can write a point by point action plan to move towards accomplishing their goals no matter how unrealistic they seem at the moment. Establishing a mindset of deserved joy and expressing the words around what joy means to an individual sets in motion the manifestation of those dreams and goals.

The Dalai Lama on Happiness

The Dalai Lama, in a book he co-authored with psychiatrist Howard Cutler, titled The Art of Happiness, says that transforming one’s mind toward achieving happiness is a gradual process and a lifelong commitment. He says that on a daily basis, individuals should consider and contemplate “reminders of how to speak to others, how to deal with other people, how to deal with problems in your daily life, things like that.” The characteristics of a happy person, he says, include sociability, creativity, flexibility, a loving attitude, and forgiveness.

(Click image)

The Dalai Lama also believes that showing compassion towards others helps unify the common goal people have of achieving happiness. Cutler gleaned great insight from this new knowledge. “I’m trained in medicine and science,” he says, “I probably wasn’t aware enough to realize the importance of kindness and compassion. And these qualities are critical. I’m now able to see people differently, that they are the same as me, striving to be happy. It’s about human connection, you know?”

And while following a spiritual path is deeply rewarding and some believe essential to create authentic joy, one particular religion is not the key to happiness, says the Dalai Lama. “There are five billion human beings, and in a certain way, I think we need five billion different religions. I believe that each individual should embark upon a spiritual path that is best suited to his or her mental disposition, natural inclination, temperament, belief, family and cultural background.”

Healing, Happiness and Health through People, Nature and Animals

Most people understand the intrinsic value of connecting with others or the feelings of awe and joy that come with appreciating nature’s boundless beauty. Owning a pet it turns out, can also foster emotional and physical well-being.

A growing body of research is showing the benefits of human-animal bonding for child development, elderly care, mental illness, physical impairment, dementia, abuse and trauma recovery, and the rehabilitation of incarcerated youth and adults.

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Dr. Froma Walsh and her colleagues conducted a study that showed bonding with pets strengthened human resilience through crisis, persistent adversity, and disruptive transitions, such as relocation, divorce, widowhood, and adoption. Pets increase well-being and healing through their relational benefits, with stress reduction and playfulness, loyal companionship, affection, comfort, security, and unconditional love.

“The powerful meaning and significance of companion animals is underestimated,” says Walsh. Mental health professionals however, rarely consider the value and implications of human-animal bonds. Deep pet attachments after the loss of a pet are often marginalized, seen as abnormal, or ignored in theory, training, and practice.

Money Boosts Satisfaction But Other Factors Create Daily Happiness

Money can buy happiness, sort of.

Ed Diener PhD and Robert Biswas-Diener, a father-son research team, conducted research on the origins of happiness and found that a large income was more directly related to a strong sense of happiness than any other factor. Overall, people who said they had a great life reported higher income.

Click here for: Amazon’s Highly Rated Books about Happiness

Yet, having a larger salary did not mean people felt happier on a day-to-day basis. Possessing “psychological wealth,” the ability to adapt to both good and bad events in order to move forward in life, was a key factor. “Essentially, we have two forms of prosperity: economic and psychological,” said Diener. “I don’t know if one is better than the other. But what we’ve found is that while money may make people lead more comfortable lives, it won’t necessarily contribute to life’s pleasant moments that come from engaging with people and activities rather than from material goods and luxuries.”

In a follow-up study, the team looked at a long list of attributes of respondents, including their income and standard of living. Participants answered questions about positive or negative emotions they experienced the previous day, whether they felt respected, whether they had family and friends they could count on in an emergency, and how free they felt to choose their daily activities, learn new things or do “what one does best.”

Like previous studies, the researchers found that life satisfaction rises with personal and national income. But positive feelings, which also increase somewhat as income rises, are much more strongly associated with these other factors:

  • Feeling respected
  • Having autonomy
  • Having social support
  • Working at a fulfilling job.

This was the first happiness study to differentiate between life satisfaction, the philosophical belief that one’s life is going well, and the day-to-day positive or negative feelings that one experiences, Diener said. “Everybody has been looking at just life satisfaction and income,” he said. “And while it is true that getting richer will make you more satisfied with your life, it may not have the big impact we thought on enjoying life.”

The “secrets” behind happiness are likely the intersection of psychological, physiological, spiritual and meta-physical occurrences in an individual. Yet, the answers behind feeling positive emotion, behind experiencing daily happiness and joy appear timeless and universal to all humans.

Click here for: Amazon’s Highly Rated Books about Happiness 

Sources

C. J. Boyce, G. D.A. Brown and S. C. Moore. “Money and Happiness: Rank of Income, Not Income, Affects Life Satisfaction.” Psychological Science, 2010.

E Diener, Ng Weiting, J. Harter and R. Arora . “Wealth and happiness across the world: Material prosperity predicts life evaluation, whereas psychosocial prosperity predicts positive feeling.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2010.

F. Walsh et al. “Human-Animal Bonds I: The Relational Significance of Companion Animals.” Family Process, 2009.

A.J. Oswald and S. Wu. “Objective Confirmation of Subjective Measures of Human Well-Being: Evidence from the U.S.A. Science, 2009.

Copyright Laura Owens. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.
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