Happiness and health are highly correlated. Happy people tend to be healthier physically and have a lower risk of developing chronic diseases. A study on individuals with type 2 diabetes found that those who were happier had lower inflammatory markers, which might slow the progression of the disease. Happy people have also been shown to be more productive at work and there is even some research that suggests that there is a link between happiness and health.
Research on twins suggests that 35-50% of happiness is genetic. This means that while a lot of our happiness is out of our control, there is still a lot that is in our control. The catch is that, according to Dr. Gillian Mandich, who studies the science of happiness, humans aren’t great at knowing what makes them happy. She says that it’s not the big shiny moments, such as a promotion or new car, but rather the small moments that add up over time, that determine how happy we are. Listen to my podcast interview with her where we dive deeper into this topic.
Dr. Michael Rucker, another expert in the field of happiness, says that the Goldilocks spot is to dedicate at least 2 hours per day (14 hours per week) to pleasurable activities. This might mean carving out some time to a specific fun activity, or learning how to find pleasure in an activity you’re already doing. You can listen to my podcast interview with him here.
Like many other things, happiness and health is a learned skill that we have to practice. But eventually it will become habit and you’ll be in a positive state more often.
So how can we invite more happiness into our lives?
1. Sprinkle in small bursts of joy. The sum of small day-to-day moments create a happy life. So one way to invite more happiness into your life is to sprinkle in small bursts of joy throughout the day. This might mean emailing someone to thank them for something they did for you, having a meaningful conversation with a friend, taking 30 seconds to help someone who needs it, or recalling a great past experience.
2. Seek out playful activities. Engaging in playful activities such as sports or games not only boosts your happiness, but is also important for your brain! One study found that juvenile rats that engaged in “rough and tumble” play had higher activation in certain areas of the brain compared to control rats. They also had greater brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) gene expression, suggesting that play is important for neurodevelopment.
3. Practice gratitude. Gratitude is appreciating the good in your life as opposed to focusing on the negatives. While it sounds simple, gratitude can change the way our brains are wired. Research suggests that practicing gratitude is associated with greater life satisfaction, improved mood, less stress, and can even improve athletic recovery by reducing inflammation, decreasing blood pressure, and improving sleep. Learn more about gratitude here!
4. Don’t underestimate the power of humour. Laughing is such a powerful mood lifter that laughing therapy is being used to treat people for mental illness such as depression and anxiety, as well as stress-related diseases. Research has shown that laughter suppresses cortisol, one of the stress hormones, while enhancing dopamine and serotonin, the feel good chemicals. Give yourself some laughter therapy by going to see a stand-up comedian, an improv show, or watching your favourite comedy movie.
5. Make self-care non-negotiable. This means dedicating some time each day to an activity that is for you and you only. Going for that quick walk in the middle of the day will not only improve your physical happiness and health, but also make you more focused the rest of the day. Taking time to meditate every day will make you more patient with your family. Setting aside time to work on a project or hobby will give you balance, give you a sense of accomplishment, and make you happier.
6. Don’t confuse seeking happiness with trying to be happy all the time. In fact, trying to be happy all the time makes us less happy, because we’re constantly chasing (and failing to achieve) an unrealistic expectation. Instead, focus on creating happy moments when you can, and accepting the lows as they come as well.
What other strategies are you using to bring more happiness and joy into your life? We’d love to know!
Greg Wells is the CEO and founder of Wells Performance, a global consulting firm on a mission to elevate how we live our lives at work and in life. He has worked with some of the highest-performing individuals on the planet, including Olympic and world champions and elite organizations including General Electric, BMO, Deloitte, KPMG, BMW, Audi, Sysco Foods, YPO and Air Canada. He is also committed to inspiring children and young adults, working with school boards and independent schools around the world.