Are you happy? It’s such an important question that British Prime Minister David Cameron recently created a national happiness index to check on how Brits feel. Even Facebook is measuring the Gross National Happiness of its members.
We’re asking because happiness has a huge impact on your health, from your arteries to your heart, from the glow in your skin to the pep in your step.
Happy feelings influence your brain and body chemistry in ways that make you better able to cope with pain and stress, and to fend off colds, flu, heart disease, even cancer. The effects of happiness on your health can be even bigger than the effect of quitting smoking. If you’re happy, you’ll likely live longer and definitely live younger!
And here’s the thing: Being happy isn’t just luck. You can make yourself happier, day in, day out. Here are 10 ways to get started:
1. Listen to music. Whether you love Bach or the Beastie Boys, music that makes you feel good increases your heart and breathing rates, and makes your brain release dopamine, a lovely feel-good neurotransmitter.
2. Hang out with upbeat friends. Your chances of happiness increase by 15 per cent if someone in your immediate social circle is happy.
3. Take a joy break. Don’t worry if you’re among the 80 per cent who say their job doesn’t thrill them. Even a few minutes of doing something you love (singing, hiking, watching a sunset) can reduce anxiety and improve your mood.
4. Talk nice to yourself. Is your inner voice quick to snap out things like: “How could you forget that, you idiot?” Trade put-downs for encouraging words; you can do this. They set you up for success.
5. Connect. Talk, really talk, to people you care about; connecting is good for you both. Get physical, too: Hugs stimulate oxytocin, the “cuddle hormone,” giving you a feel-good boost. Lovemaking does, too, in steady relationships (those couples report the highest happiness levels).
6. Keep a gratitude journal. Simply writing down what you’re thankful for makes you healthier and more optimistic.
7. Don’t sit around. Physical activity is a significant happiness booster. Get moving for 30 minutes a day.
8. Meditate. We do. It eases stress, improves sleep, strengthens immunity and measurably increases happiness (in one study, by 20 points on a scale of 100).
9. Help others. Volunteer at a soup kitchen, hospital or shelter. Giving back adds more meaning, which is essential to happiness in your life.
10. Go outside. Spending time with Mother Nature makes you feel alert, enthusiastic, full of energy and, simply, happy.